Washington — Republicans on Tuesday blocked a procedural vote to advance a sweeping voting reforms bill in the Senate, sinking Democrats’ attempt to begin debate on their landmark legislation overhauling the nation’s election laws.
With a 50-50 vote, the effort, which garnered last-minute backing from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, fell far short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. All Republicans oppose the voting rights bill and voted against taking up the legislation, which is Democrats’ answer to restrictive voting measures enacted in GOP-led states following the 2020 presidential election.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who is leading the Biden administration’s efforts on voting rights, presided over the vote. After the vote, she told reporters “the fight is not over.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made similar comments, saying that “this vote, I’m ashamed to say, is further evidence that voter suppression has become part of the official platform of the Republican Party.”
The Senate’s failure to advance the bill is likely to further fuel calls from progressive Democrats to do away with the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to advance most legislation.
Ahead of the vote, Schumer reiterated the effort was to open debate on voting rights legislation, saying “protecting voting rights is worthy of debate. This is what this next vote is about.”
“Are we going to let the most dishonest president in history continue to poison our democracy from the inside?” the New York Democrat said. “Or will we stand up to defend what generations of Americans have organized, fought, marched and died for: the sacred, sacred right to vote?”
The bill, known as the For the People Act or S. 1, would be the greatest overhaul of election laws in a generation, revamping government ethics and campaign finance laws while seeking to strengthen voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. It also includes some measures that would require states to overhaul their registration systems, limit states’ ability to remove people from voter rolls, increase federal funds for election security and reform the redistricting process.
President Biden on Tuesday urged Congress to send the bill to his desk for signature.
“We can’t sit idly by while democracy is in peril — here, in America,” Mr. Biden tweeted before the test vote. “We need to protect the sacred right to vote and ensure ‘We the People’ choose our leaders, the very foundation on which our democracy rests. We urgently need the For The People Act.”
In the wake of Republicans’ filibuster, the president called their opposition “the suppression of a bill to end voter suppression — another attack on voting rights that is sadly not unprecedented” and pledged more action on voting rights.
“This fight is far from over — far from over,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we are going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again — for the people, for our very democracy.”
While Manchin said this month he opposed the initial version of the elections overhaul, raising concerns about passing such sweeping legislation without any bipartisan support, he announced earlier Tuesday that he would vote to proceed to debate on the bill.
Manchin eased his initial opposition last week, circulating a list of demands for the voting legislation. The list included provisions banning partisan gerrymandering and mandating at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Manchin’s list also included areas of compromise relating to ethics and campaign finance.
In a statement ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Manchin said the updated bill would expand early voting and vote by mail, and implement “voter ID requirements that aim to strengthen the security of our elections without making it harder for Americans to vote.” It would also require the disclosure of donors who make campaign contributions of $10,000 or more.
The expansive voting rights bill derailed by Republicans has backing from former President Obama, who urged Congress on Monday to pass legislation before the 2022 midterm elections.
“The violence that occurred in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, just a few months ago, should remind us that we can’t take our democracy for granted,” Mr. Obama said on a call with grassroots supporters.
Even though Democrats coalesced around the bill, Republicans remained adamant in their opposition. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said states, not the federal government, should retain control over their elections and called the measure “a solution in search of a problem.”
The bill, GOP Senator Roy Blunt said, “is not about more democracy. It’s about more Democrats.”
In anticipation of the Senate vote, Harris spoke with Schumer over the weekend about the path forward, a White House official said. The vice president also has spoken with a number of senators and House members, as well as voting rights advocates, including the head of the NAACP.
Manchin has pinned his hopes for election reform on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which so far has the support of a single Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted against S. 1. The bill has not yet been introduced, but would restore a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. That provision required certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to receive approval, known as preclearance, from the federal government before making changes to their voting rules.
But the act, named for the late congressman and civil rights icon, will likely not be considered until the fall, as the House is still gathering the evidence sufficient to prove that jurisdictions have patterns of voting discrimination.
Ed O’Keefe and Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.