Chairman Joe Biden said we had reached a “turning point in the history of our nation” – a “crucial moment” for the American system. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said “mistakes are not an option.” And Democratic senator Raphael Warnock from Georgia said nothing less than “democracy as we know it” was at stake this week. These warnings not only managed to change the situation in the Senate’s voting rights – they did not even seem to come close.
Biden had not even reached Capitol Hill on Thursday to present his case when one of the two lawmakers he was to convince Kyrsten Cinema, pushed an effort through the heart of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and Freedom to Vote Act and said on the Senate floor that even if she backs the law, she would not agree to the filibuster changes that would certainly be needed to pass it. . “These bills help treat the symptoms of the disease, but they do not fully address the disease itself,” the Arizona Democrat said. “And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that exacerbate the underlying disease with divisions that infect our country.”
Joe Manchin waited at least until after Biden’s visit to state his position, but when he did, he was just as blunt: “As I have said before, I will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” he said, describing a such a step as “the easy way out.” Biden later hosted the couple in the White House for what were described as “respectful” negotiations, and Schumer promised Thursday that the Senate would still take a vote on the bills next week. But with Manchin and Sinema digging their heels in, the question is no longer whether the bills will be passed, but what will happen when they do not.
Democratic leaders have only just begun to entertain that question in public. After meeting senators at a Democratic political luncheon Thursday, Biden acknowledged he did not “know if we can get this done.” Asked about a Plan B, Biden suggested that his party would regroup and begin another push. “Like all other major civil rights bills that came, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time,” he said. “We missed this time.”
But those are not the efforts Biden put forth when he called for filibuster reform and voter protection in a speech in Atlanta earlier this week; there he said it was “the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.” By remaining steadfast in their opposition to a filibuster cut, Manchin and Sinema have not necessarily killed voting rights legislation forever. But as Biden suggested in Georgia, this setback could close the window on hopes of beating GOP deprivation rights bills back before the mid-November period. That may be bad news for the party, as Republicans appear to be taking advantage of Biden’s declining approval ratings to take Congress back. It is also difficult for democracy more broadly to have an increasingly radical Republican party that is still dependent on Donald Trump and his big lie, with control over the very institutions they sought to overthrow only a year ago.
The Department of Justice has taken action against some of the most sinister bills to vote, with the Attorney General Merrick Garland sue Texas and Georgia for “discriminatory” laws. But DOJ action is no substitute for federal law, and it’s not clear how successful it will be – especially if the fight comes to a Supreme Court-dominated 6-3 by Conservatives, including three Trump nominees.
Congress, meanwhile, was able to turn its attention to the famous, abstrated 1887 Electoral Count Act, a law desperately in need of a makeover. Trump and his allies tried to exploit the vagueness of the counting process Mike Pence throw voters out in key states and declare Trump the winner in 2020. Even Senate Republicans have recently proposed that the ECA be strengthened and making the procedure clearer would be a welcome step in preventing the kind of constitutional crisis Pence could have launched . But a narrow ECA reform does not prevent Republicans from depriving voters of the right to vote or exercising more control over the electoral process in other ways they have sought to do, and applies only to presidential elections, leaving other competitions, including this year’s midterm elections, vulnerable. It is also difficult to know how strong the GOP support for an ECA change really is: Mitch McConnell and others recently signaled support for reforms, but it seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to lower Democrats’ more ambitious suffrage legislation. With these bills now anyway apparently dead on arrival, will their appetite hold?