Senate Democrats made an impassioned case Wednesday for legislation to counter an onslaught of new voting restrictions around the country, but they failed to overcome a Republican blockade or unite their members behind a change in filibuster rules to pass it.
Although the twin defeats were never in doubt, Democrats pushed forward to highlight what they called a crisis in voting rights and to underscore the refusal of Republicans to confront it. They succeeded in forcing the Senate for the first time to debate the bill.
After Republicans stymied action on the legislation Wednesday night, Democrats made a last-ditch bid to alter the Senate’s filibuster rules and allow the voting rights measure to move forward with a simple majority. But that effort also fell flat because they lacked the support in their own ranks to change the rules.
The back-to-back losses amounted to a major setback for President Joe Biden, who used a news conference during the Senate debate to lament Republicans’ success at thwarting his domestic agenda, including the voting rights measure.
The legislation combined two bills that Republicans had previously blocked four times with a filibuster, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It would establish nationwide standards for ballot access that aim to nullify restrictions Republicans have imposed in states around the country following the 2020 elections. And it would restore elements of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions.
Although all 50 Democrats and independents supported the voting rights bill, all 50 Republicans held together in opposition, leaving Democrats 10 votes short of the 60 needed to break the filibuster. The final vote was 51-49, with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, voting with opponents in a maneuver aimed at allowing the measure to be reconsidered later.
Democrats also fell short of the votes needed to unilaterally change Senate rules to override the blockade and allow the voting rights measure to pass with just 51 votes rather than 60. All Republicans opposed changing the rules and two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they would brook no such gambit.
The effort to change the rules was defeated, 52-48.
[This article originally appeared in The New York Times.]