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Biden calls for lifting Senate filibuster to pass voting rights bills: Stuck without Manchin support

Without the backing of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Democrats have no chance to pass a voting rights bill.

President Biden And VP Harris Speak On Voters’ Rights Legislation At The Atlanta University Center Consortium
President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, part of both Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks on voting rights legislation.
Megan Varner/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden traveled to Atlanta on Tuesday — the city known as the “cradle of the civil rights movement” — to rally support to get all 50 Democrats in the Senate to make an exception to filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation — and he’s two senators short.

As you read this, and follow the moves in the next few days as Democrats in Congress and the Biden White House try to get their top priority voting legislation passed, remember the key numbers: 60 and 50.

The Senate is 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris, who was with Biden in Atlanta, the tie-breaking vote. Because of the Senate filibuster rule, it takes 60 votes to pass most legislation. There are not 10 Republicans who will back the Democratic voting rights bills. The only way to pass the legislation is for all 50 Democrats to vote to lift the filibuster rule to allow the voting rights measure to advance on a majority vote.

The Democrats from Illinois, Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, favor getting rid of the filibuster so voting measures can be sent to Biden to sign. Time is running out for Democrats, since they may lose control of the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.

The holdouts over lifting the filibuster for voting rights legislation are the two usual suspects: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who is seen as likely to come around, and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who may not.

“As an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,” Biden, said, a reference to the tremendous success of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” in convincing many Republicans, with no evidence, the 2020 election was rigged, polls show.

Trump’s “Big Lie” was a powerful factor leading to the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, with the mob trying to prevent Congress from formally declaring Biden the winner.

If the Senate path is blocked because of the filibuster, “We have no option but to change the Senate rules including getting rid of the filibuster for this,” Biden said.

The House passed the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, with Lewis the late civil rights hero and House member. Biden spoke in Lewis’ congressional district.

The Senate in the coming days will deal with a two-step process, unless a third way emerges.

* Step one. A vote on an underlying voting rights package, likely a fusing of the two House bills. Sinema and Manchin are likely to vote yes on this. But remember, without lifting the filibuster rule, the legislation goes nowhere.

* Step two. A vote to change the Senate rules to drop the filibuster only for the voting rights legislation — which will take all 50 Democrats voting yes.

Democrats are making voting rights a priority in the wake of Trump’s baseless assertion he won the 2020 election. We in Illinois — where Democrats hold all statewide offices and control both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly — have been insulated from what’s been happening in other states across the country.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the 2021 push in GOP states “to restrict access to voting was not only aggressive — it was also successful.”

“Between January 1 and December 7, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.” The new thing in 2021 was GOP state lawmakers promoting bills to let partisan players “interfere with election processes or even reject election results entirely.”

The Brennan Center has a gloomy forecast. The 2021 “tidal wave of restrictive voting legislation will continue in 2022.”

Biden used examples of new Georgia voting laws, limiting, among other items, mail-in voting and eroding the power of local election boards.

Said Biden, “So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered?

“The consequential moments in history, they present a choice. Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?

“Do you want to be the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”