The year-long Democratic push for federal voting rights legislation died in the Senate on Wednesday night, after Republicans blocked an elections bill for the fifth time in six months and Democrats failed to unite their caucus behind a plan to rewrite the Senate’s rules and pass it anyway.
The final clash, which has been brewing since Democrats won congressional majorities a year ago as Republican legislatures in 19 states embarked on a campaign to roll back election access, began with an evening vote to close debate on a sprawling voting rights bill. That vote, at the Senate’s traditional 60-vote margin for legislation, failed on party lines.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) then moved to reconsider the legislation to propose a rules change allowing for the bill’s advancement with a simple majority of 51 votes. The Senate rejected that maneuver 52 to 48, with two Democrats, Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), joining all 50 Republicans in opposition.
The late-evening vote amounted to a bitter but unsurprising finale for the Democratic voting rights effort on Capitol Hill, a campaign backed by top party leaders and pushed by key elements of its coalition even as Manchin and Sinema repeatedly made clear they would notweaken the 60-vote rule, defending it as a tool to protect minority-party rights and promote bipartisanship in U.S. democracy.
But Schumer and other top Democrats were determined to push forward with a floor confrontation regardless, even as it promised to expose bitter divisions inside their own party rather than amplify a GOP blockade that they have described as an existential threat to democracy.
In the final hours of debate, Democrats pressed the need for action — including a rare rules change that threatened to upend decades of Senate procedure — in lofty terms couched in the preservation of democracy, while Republicans angrily countered with accusations that the maneuver amounted to nothing more than a partisan power play.