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Voting Bill Collapses, Filibuster Stays01/20 06:07

   Voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights leaders say is vital to 
protecting democracy collapsed when two senators refused to join their own 
party in changing Senate rules to overcome a Republican filibuster after a raw, 
emotional debate.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights 
leaders say is vital to protecting democracy collapsed when two senators 
refused to join their own party in changing Senate rules to overcome a 
Republican filibuster after a raw, emotional debate.

   The outcome Wednesday night was a stinging defeat for President Joe Biden 
and his party, coming at the tumultuous close to his first year in office.

   Despite a day of piercing debate and speeches that often carried echoes of 
an earlier era when the Senate filibuster was deployed by opponents of civil 
rights legislation, Democrats could not persuade holdout senators Kyrsten 
Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to change the Senate 
procedures on this one bill and allow a simple majority to advance it.

   "I am profoundly disappointed," Biden said in a statement after the vote.

   However, the president said he is "not deterred" and vowed to "explore every 
measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy."

   Voting rights advocates are warning that Republican-led states nationwide 
are passing laws making it more difficult for Black Americans and others to 
vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of 
identification and ordering other changes.

   Vice President Kamala Harris briefly presided over the Senate, able to break 
a tie in the 50-50 Senate if needed, but she left before the final vote. The 
rules change was rejected 52-48, with Manchin and Sinema joining the 
Republicans in opposition.

   The nighttime voting brought an end, for now, to legislation that has been a 
top Democratic priority since the party took control of Congress and the White 
House.

   "This is a moral moment," said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

   The Democrats' bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, would make 
Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in 
ballots -- which have become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic -- 
and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of 
voter interference, among other changes. It has passed the House.

   Both Manchin and Sinema say they support the legislation, but Democrats fell 
far short of the 60 votes needed to push the bill over the Republican 
filibuster. It failed to advance 51-49 on a largely party-line vote. Senate 
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., cast a procedural vote against so the 
bill could be considered later.

   Next, Schumer put forward a rules change for a "talking filibuster" on this 
one bill. It would require senators to stand at their desks and exhaust the 
debate before holding a simple majority vote, rather than the current practice 
that simply allows senators to privately signal their objections.

   But that, too, failed because Manchin and Sinema were unwilling to change 
the Senate rules a party-line vote by Democrats alone.

   Emotions were on display during the floor debate.

   When Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Senate Republican leader Mitch 
McConnell of Kentucky whether he would pause for a question, McConnell left the 
chamber, refusing to respond.

   Durbin said he would have asked McConnell, "Does he really believe that 
there's no evidence of voter suppression?"

   The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, said at one point, "I 
am not a racist."

   McConnell, who led his party in doing away with the filibuster's 60-vote 
threshold for Supreme Court nominees during Donald Trump's presidency, warned 
against changing the rules again.

   McConnell derided the "fake hysteria" from Democrats over the states' new 
voting laws and called the pending bill a federal takeover of election systems. 
He admonished Democrats in a fiery speech and said doing away with filibuster 
rules would "break the Senate."

   Manchin drew a roomful of senators for his own speech, upstaging the 
president's news conference and defending the filibuster. He said changing to a 
majority-rule Senate would only add to the "dysfunction that is tearing this 
nation apart."

   Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked across the Capitol 
for the proceedings. "We want this Senate to act today in a favorable way. But 
if it don't, we ain't giving up," said Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the 
highest-ranking Black member of Congress.

   Manchin did open the door to a more tailored package of voting law changes, 
including to the Electoral Count Act, which was tested during the Jan. 6, 2021, 
insurrection at the Capitol. He said senators from both parties are working on 
that and it could draw Republican support.

   Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said a bipartisan coalition should work on 
legislation to ensure voter access, particularly in far-flung areas like her 
state, and to shore up Americans' faith in democracy.

   "We don't need, we do not need a repeat of 2020 when by all accounts our 
last president, having lost the election, sought to change the results," said 
Murkowski.

   She said the Senate debate had declined to a troubling state: "You're either 
a racist or a hypocrite. Really, really? Is that where we are?"

   At one point, senators broke out in applause after a spirited debate between 
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, among the more experienced lawmakers, and new Sen. 
Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., over the history of the Voting Rights Act.

   Sinema sat in her chair throughout much of the day's the debate, largely 
glued to her phone, but rose to her feet to deliver her vote against the rules 
change.

   In a statement, Sinema said the outcome "must not be the end of our work to 
protect our democracy." But she warned, "these challenges cannot be solved by 
one party or Washington alone."

   Schumer contended the fight is not over and he ridiculed Republican claims 
that the new election laws in the states will not end up hurting voter access 
and turnout, comparing it to Trump's "big lie" about the 2020 presidential 
election.

   Democrats decided to press ahead despite the potential for high-stakes 
defeat as Biden is marking his first year in office with his priorities 
stalling out in the face of solid Republican opposition and the Democrats' 
inability to unite around their own goals. They wanted to force senators on the 
record -- even their own party's holdouts -- to show voters where they stand.

   Once reluctant himself to change Senate rules, Biden has stepped up his 
pressure on senators to do just that. But the push from the White House, 
including Biden's blistering speech last week in Atlanta comparing opponents to 
segregationists, is seen as too late.

 
 
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