UPDATE, 11:35 AM PT: After meeting with Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss a strategy to pass voting rights legislation, Joe Biden said, “I hope we can get this done — the honest to God answer is, I don’t know whether we can get this done.”
“Like every major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try the second time,” he told reporters. “If we miss this time and the state legislative bodies continue to change the law not as to who can vote, but who gets to count the vote.”
The Biden got more emphatic. “Count the vote. Count the vote! It is about election subversion, not just whether people get to vote.”
Biden’s uncertainty reflected the fact that Democrats don’t have the votes to change the Senate rules so that the election bills can pass by simple majority. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) reiterated her opposition to such a strategy earlier on Thursday, and her vote is needed in a 50-50 Senate.
PREVIOUSLY: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) reiterated her opposition to changing 60-vote threshold as a way to pass voting rights legislation, underscoring how highly unlikely it is the bills will pass.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has initiated a process to bring the legislation to the floor for debate, but the path likely hinges on ultimately changing the filibuster rules to pass the bills by simple majority. Sinema and another moderate, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), have been unwilling to change the rules without bipartisan buy in, something that isn’t likely to happen.
“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold on a party line vote with the thinnest of possible majorities to pass these bills I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office,” Sinema said. She argued that the party line vote would only add to division in the country, arguing that the “bitterness within our politics is exacerbated.”
In a speech on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that he supported a rules change as way to pass the bills, arguing that the future of democracy was at stake. He is going to address the Democratic caucus on Thursday afternoon.
Sinema did express support for the legislation, which passed the House on Thursday in a legislative maneuver that will allow Schumer to at least bring debate to the floor. Previously, the bills have stalled out as Republicans have blocked moves to open debate.
The Freedom to Vote Act, the more sweeping of the two bills, would establish early vote requirements and vote-by-mail standards; protect local election officials from removal for political reasons; ban gerrymandering; create automatic voter registration standards; increase campaign finance disclosure; and mandate post election audits. It also would make Election Day a national holiday and would limit polling place lines to no more than 30 minutes, among other changes.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would require that states get clearance from the federal government to certain changes to their voting laws, essentially restoring a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A state would be subject to “pre-clearance” for 10 years if: there were 15 or more voting rights violations in the state during the previous 25 years; 10 or more violations occurred during the previous 25 years, with at least at one committed by the state itself; or three or more violations in previous 25 years and the state administers the elections. The bill also would set factors that courts must consider when hearing challenges to a state or locality’s voting practices.
Sinema said, “I share the disappointment of many that we’ve not found more support on the other side of the aisle for legislative responses to state level voting restrictions. I wish that were not the case, just as I wish there had been a more serious effort on the part of Democratic Party leaders to sit down with the other party and genuinely discuss how to reforge common ground on these issues.”
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