For the People Act Blocked by G.O.P. Filibuster in Senate
President Biden had urged the Senate to pass the bill and “send it to my desk.”
Republicans block a sweeping voting rights bill, dealing Biden and Democrats a defeat.
Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Thune of South Dakota, all Republicans, walk to a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
June 22, 2021, 8:21 a.m. ET
Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked the most ambitious voting rights legislation to come before Congress in a generation, using the filibuster to deal a blow to a bid by President Biden and Democrats to counter a wave of state-level ballot restrictions and fueling a political battle that promises to shape the 2022 elections.
All 50 senators in the Democratic caucus voted to advance the measure, known as the For the People Act, but with every Republican opposed, it fell well short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Vice President Kamala Harris, who has taken a leading role in rallying support for the measure, presided as the legislation hit a roadblock.
Democratic leaders immediately vowed to redouble their efforts to steer meaningful voting rights legislation into law. But the Republican blockade left them without a clear path to beating back the restrictive voting laws Mr. Biden has compared to “Jim Crow” racing through Republican-led states. Instead, for now it will largely be left to the Justice Department to try to challenge them in court — a time-consuming process with limited chances of success.
Democrats’ only real hope of enacting an elections overhaul now rests on a long-shot bid to eliminate the legislative filibuster. Seething progressive activists pointed to Republicans’ refusal to even allow debate on the issue as a glaring example of why their representatives in Congress must move to eliminate the rule to bypass Republicans on a range of liberal priorities while they still have power.
“The people did not give Democrats the House, Senate and White House to compromise with insurrectionists,” Representative Ayanna S. Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, wrote on Twitter in the hours before the vote. “Abolish the filibuster so we can do the people’s work.”
They promised a well-funded summertime blitz, replete with home-state rallies and million-dollar ad campaigns, to try to ramp up pressure on a handful of Senate Democrats opposed to the change. For progressives in Congress, mounting frustration with Republicans could also accelerate a growing rift within the Democratic Party over whether to try to pass a bipartisan infrastructure and jobs package or go it alone with a far more ambitious plan.
But key Democratic moderates who have defended the filibuster rule — led by Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — appeared unmoved and said their leaders should try to find narrower bipartisan compromises, including on voting and infrastructure bills.
The Democrats’ voting rights bill would usher in the largest federally mandated expansion of voting rights since the 1960s, ban partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, force super PACs to disclose their big donors and create a new public campaign financing system. It would also effectively blunt laws adopted in 14 Republican-led states so far making it harder for people of color and young people to vote, or shifting power over elections to Republican legislatures.
“There is a rot — a rot at the center of the modern Republican Party,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader. “There is no principle behind these laws: not fraud, not election integrity, not security, not better election administration. The only principle is blatant partisan electoral advantage.”
Republicans never really considered the legislation, or a narrower alternative proposed in recent days by Mr. Manchin. They mounted an aggressive campaign in congressional committees, on television and finally on the Senate floor to portray the bill as a self-serving attempt to federalize elections to benefit Democrats.
They particularly savaged provisions restructuring the Federal Election Commission to make it more partisan and the creation of a public campaign financing system for congressional campaigns.
“These same rotten proposals have sometimes been called a massive overhaul for a broken democracy, sometimes just a modest package of tweaks for a democracy that’s working perfectly and sometimes a response to state actions, which this bill actually predates by many years,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader. “But whatever label Democrats slap on the bill, the substance remains the same.”
Mr. McConnell, who made it his personal mission to bury the bill, also decried any attempt to gut the filibuster, especially for such high stakes legislation. “The Senate,” he said, “is no obstacle to voting laws done the right way.”