Republicans in the US Senate have torpedoed a Democratic bid to implement nationwide election rules, a cherished priority of President Joe Biden’s party.The huge bill – which sought to make it easier for Americans to vote – ended up deadlocked 50-50 along party lines. President Joe Biden said the issue was the “fight of his presidency”, but some Democrats accuse him of not fighting hard enough.Advocates say the bill would have been the most far-reaching election measure since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It comes as Republican-led states advance proposals – which Mr Biden has depicted as racially discriminatory – to tighten election laws, and as former President Donald Trump, a Republican, continues to peddle unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. The Democrats’ For the People Act passed the House of Representatives in March in a near party-line vote, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in opposing the bill. But 60 votes are needed in the 100-member Senate to advance most legislation, and the upper chamber is evenly split 50-50 between the two parties.
A procedural vote to open debate on the legislation was defeated by a tally of 50-50, falling short of the 60 votes needed to succeed. Democrats were united in favor of the vote after securing support from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, but Republicans were united against it, causing the measure to fail to advance. Democratic senators have pitched the legislation a necessary counter to state-level efforts to restrict voting access, but Republicans have decried it as a partisan power grab and a federal overreach into state voting and election systems.
The bill’s failure to move forward will force Democrats to confront the question of what else they can do to press the issue and will likely trigger a fresh outpouring of calls from progressives to eliminate the legislative filibuster, which requires most bills to get the votes of at least 10 Republicans given the current Senate makeup. The votes are not there, however, to eliminate the filibuster with Manchin and several other moderate Democrats opposed.
The effort by Democrats to pass the voting legislation comes in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and as Republican-controlled legislatures have pressed ahead with new state laws imposing limits on voting. As of May, state legislators in 48 states had introduced more than 380 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.The Senate took up an amended version of legislation that passed the House in March. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear on Monday afternoon that the legislation was destined to fail in the Senate, promising they would give it “no quarter.”
McConnell accused Democrats of trying to make election laws benefit their party, saying, “They’ve made it abundantly clear that the real driving force behind S1 is a desire to rig the rules of American elections permanently, permanently in Democrats’ favor,” rather than protecting the rights of voters. The legislative package that passed the House calls for far-reaching ethics and government changes that would impact Congress, the president and even the Supreme Court. It would institute an ethics code for the US Supreme Court that would apply to justices and would implement measures intended to prevent presidential conflicts of interest. It would stop lawmakers from using taxpayer money to reach settlements in employment discrimination cases stemming from their own actions. The bill also takes aim at Citizens United, the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision, by calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling, which opened the door to unlimited spending by corporations and unions to influence elections.