White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki put an optimistic spin on President Biden’s certain defeat on election reform, saying Thursday that “we’re gonna keep fighting till the votes are had.”
Psaki refused to concede defeat despite President Biden admitting after a lunch meeting with Senate Democrats that “we missed this time” after he pushed to scrap the 60-vote legislative filibuster so that Democrats could pass the measures with a simple majority.
CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins pressed Psaki on whether Biden accepts that he won’t sway Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) to change Senate rules allow for a bare majority vote on the legislation.
“Sen. Sinema before the president got up there reiterated that she does not want to change the 60-vote threshold. Sen. Manchin just said now in a statement that he does not want to change that. Has the president accepted that he cannot sway them when it comes to changing the filibuster and creating an exception?” Collins asked.
Psaki replied, “I think we’re gonna keep fighting till the votes are had” — possibly referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s in-flux plan to call a vote by Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Monday.
Democrats control just 50 seats in the evenly divided Senate and Republican opposition to the election overhauls means they cannot pass so long as the 60-vote threshold remains.
Collins pressed Psaki, “But [Sinema and Manchin] have said today that they are not changing their positions despite an appeal directly from the president.”
“Look, his job is to take on tough challenges to speak out for what’s right,” Psaki said.
“And he thinks making changes to the rules in order to get voting rights passed and protect people’s fundamental rights is right. We’ll leave it to Leader Schumer on what the next steps are and what the processes from here are. But we are going to keep having meetings, keep having calls and that will be what the president’s focus will.”
When pressed further, Psaki said, “Leadership is continuing to fight for what’s right, continuing to fight to get something done. That means sometimes it fails. We don’t know what will happen next.”
Bloomberg News reporter Justin Sink picked up the line of questioning, asking, “At what point do you take stock and say that things need to change internally — whether it’s your outreach for the hill, whether it’s the leadership within the White House? You seem to be stagnate on an incredible number of fronts right now.”
Psaki said that disappointing news on the voting reform legislation and also Biden’s stalled-out $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act simply reflects the lofty ambitions of the White House.
“We could certainly have proposed legislation to see if people support bunny rabbits and ice cream, but that wouldn’t be very rewarding to the American people,” Psaki said. “So the president’s view is we’re gonna keep pushing for hard things. And we’re going to keep pushing the boulders up the hill to get it done.”
Sinema shot down Biden’s request that Democrats set aside the filibuster in a Senate floor speech just before Biden arrived to lunch with senators at the Capitol.
“What is the legislative filibuster, other than a tool that requires new federal policy to be broadly supported by senators representing a broader cross section of Americans?” Sinema said. “A guardrail, inevitably viewed as an obstacle by whoever holds the Senate majority; but which in reality ensures that millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice in the process.”
Manchin said in a statement, “Ending the filibuster would be the easy way out. I cannot support such a perilous course for this nation when elected leaders are sent to Washington to unite our country by putting politics and party aside.”
A handful of other moderate Democrats, including Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), are not publicly supportive of the move pushed by Biden.
The bills pushed by Biden include the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would force certain states to gain federal approval for changes to election laws. The other, the Freedom to Vote Act, would make Election Day a holiday, force states to allow no-excuse mail-in voting and require that most jurisdictions allow 10 hours per day of early voting for two weeks before an election. That bill would bar states from requiring people to show ID to get a mail-in ballot.