The Democratic-controlled House approved a measure that combined key provisions of two voting bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It will next be sent to the Senate where a high-profile fight awaits amid Republican opposition and resistance among some Democrats to changing Senate rules.
Biden is planning to attend the Senate Democratic caucus lunch on Thursday to discuss the effort to pass voting bills and potential changes to Senate rules, a senior Democratic aide told CNN.
But just prior to Biden’s arrival on the Hill, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona reiterated her support for the filibuster, which sets up a 60-vote threshold for most legislation to pass in the Senate. In a speech on the Senate floor, she warned against further partisan division.
“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold on a party line with the thinnest of possible majorities to pass these bills that I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office,” she said. “Rather, eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that Biden plans to make the case directly to members for the new voting legislation.
“This is a defining moment that will divide everything before and everything after when the most fundamental American right that all others flow from, the right to vote and have your vote counted, is at risk,” Psaki said on Wednesday. “He’s heading up to the Hill tomorrow to speak to the caucus and make the strong case that you’ve heard him make publicly directly to members.”
Biden’s planned trip to Capitol Hill comes after the President called on the Senate in a forceful speech on Tuesday to change its filibuster rules in order to pass voting legislation. The problem facing Democrats is that they don’t have the votes to pass voting legislation under current Senate rules due to Republican opposition and they also do not appear to have the votes to change the rules. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two influential moderates, have long expressed opposition to eliminating the 60-vote threshold required to pass most legislation.
Despite that, Democrats are gearing up to implement a plan where the House will first pass voting legislation and then send it to the Senate. Democrats would then need 60 votes to break a filibuster to move to final passage, setting the stage for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, to try to force a vote to change the rules.
Democrats are under intense pressure from grassroots activists and their voters to pass legislation to safeguard voting access but have continually hit a wall in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would need to join with all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus to pass voting legislation in order to overcome a filibuster. Most Senate Republicans have dismissed attempts by Democrats to pass voting bills as reckless partisan overreach.
Biden’s decision to make a high-profile push on voting rights comes as a major pillar of his domestic agenda has stalled out, raising questions over what Democrats will be able to accomplish now, while they still control the White House and narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Late last year, Manchin said he could not support the sweeping social safety net expansion known as the Build Back Better Act. It is unclear if Democrats will be able to salvage any of the legislation in the aftermath of that setback.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Thursday.