WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans filibustered debate on voting rights legislation Tuesday, putting Democrats in a predicament about how to advance their high-priority bill.
The vote to advance an amended version of the "For The People Act" split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 needed. All Democrats voted to begin debate and Republicans unanimously voting to block the bill.
Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the bill an effort to respond to restrictive voting laws in GOP-led states like Georgia, and said the procedural vote was simply to allow debate and an amendment process that will shape the eventual bill.
"They don’t even want to debate it because they’re afraid. They want to deny the right to vote, make it harder to vote for so many Americans, and they don’t want to talk about it," Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Tuesday. "There is a rot — a rot — at the center of the modern Republican party. Donald Trump's big lie has spread like a cancer and threatens to envelop one of America’s major political parties."
Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been tasked by the White House to work on voting rights, presided over the Tuesday debate in the Senate.
The legislation is cosponsored by 49 Democratic members of the Senate. The one holdout, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Tuesday he'd vote to begin debate after receiving assurances that the Senate would consider a compromise version that he has said he can support.
"Today I will vote ‘YES’ to move to debate this updated voting legislation as a substitute amendment to ensure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot and participate in our great democracy," Manchin said in a statement, while adding that he doesn't support the bill as written.
“We’ll keep talking,” he said after the vote. “You can’t give up. You really can't.”
Democrats have been facing renewed pressure from their base to abolish the filibuster to push the bill through, but they don't currently have the votes to do that. Manchin remains opposed to nuking the 60-vote rule, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., reiterated her support for the super-majority threshold to pass bills in an opinion piece published Monday.
Schumer said the vote was "the starting gun, not the finish line" in the battle over ballot access and vowed that Democrats "will not let it die."
"We have several, serious options for how to reconsider this issue and advance legislation to combat voter suppression. We are going to explore every, last one of our options," he said on the Senate floor after the failed vote. "We have to. Voting rights are too important."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called it a "radical proposal" designed to "rig the rules of American elections permanently, permanently in Democrats' favor."
He told reporters on Tuesday that the state-led system held up well in the 2020 election.
"This is not a federal issue. It ought to be left to the states," the Kentucky Republican said. "There's no rational basis for federalizing the elections. Therefore there's no point about having a debate in the U.S. Senate about something we ought not to do."
The bill, known as S.1, consists of a expansive wish list of progressive priorities, such as requiring 15 days of early voting and mail-in voting. It would impose new limits on campaign finance and require that presidential nominees release their tax returns.
It has been rejected by top Republicans as a nonstarter.
A Monmouth University poll released Monday found that registered voters favor key provisions in the bill, including 69 percent who favor national guidelines to allow mail-in voting and in-person voting in every state, compared to 25 percent who oppose that idea.
The survey found that requiring photo identification to vote, which is not included in the Democratic bill, is backed by 80 percent of American voters.
Former President Barack Obama said Monday it was "not acceptable" for Republicans to block debate on the For The People Act "in the aftermath of an insurrection, with our democracy on the line."