Senate Democrats plan to make a point about election reform legislation this week — even if it is a moot one.
Debate will kick off Tuesday on the voting rights legislation, with leadership aiming to hold a vote Wednesday on a rules change to the filibuster that would allow the measures to pass with a simple majority — despite its almost certain failure.
House Democrats used a NASA-related bill to combine the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — both of which were previously blocked by Republicans in the upper chamber from moving forward — to send the measure to the Senate last week, a procedural gambit that prevents GOP senators from blocking its debate.
Top Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) and President Biden have been ramping up pressure on moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in recent weeks to support bypassing the filibuster so the legislation can be rammed through, but their calls do not appear to have had an impact on the two centrists, who have repeatedly asserted they believe the rule is a fundamental part of the chamber’s institution.
Despite the lack of support, Schumer has vowed to bring the rules change up for a vote. The specifics of the rules changes have not yet been released.
“Make no mistake, the United States Senate will — for the first time this Congress —debate voting rights legislation beginning on Tuesday. Members of this chamber were elected to debate and to vote, particularly on an issue as vital to the beating heart of our democracy as this one. And we will proceed,” Schumer said on the floor last week.
“And if Senate Republicans choose obstruction over protecting the sacred right to vote — as we expect them to — the Senate will consider and vote on changing the Senate rules, as has been done many times before, to allow for passage of voting rights legislation.”
Schumer had initially aimed to hold the vote by Jan. 17, but Sen. Brian Schatz’s (D-Hawaii) COVID-19 diagnosis last week delayed his plans.
Voting rights has become a central priority for the administration after Democrats pivoted to the issues after a sweeping social spending bill hit a wall in December, with Manchin voicing objections to key provisions.
Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly argued that the legislation is necessary, alleging that the stricter voting laws adopted in a number of red states have disenfranchised minority voters and cited restoring voter confidence in elections in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Republicans have countered that stricter laws have not disenfranchised voters, arguing they are necessary moves to protect against voter fraud.
The Freedom to Vote Act looks to unwind a number of election rules put in place by some Republican-led states in addition to allowing for same-day voter registration and no-excuse mail voting. It would also prevent states from requiring a photo ID to vote, allow felons to vote in all states and would require super PACs and so-called “dark money groups” to disclose all donors who contribute more than $10,000.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act aims to undo court rulings that weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by requiring certain states to receive federal preclearance before enacting redistricting plans or new voting laws.