For the third time this year, Senate Democrats on Wednesday tried to pass sweeping elections legislation that they tout as a powerful counterweight to new voting restrictions in the states.
Once again, Republicans blocked them.
But amid the stalemate, there are signs that Democrats are making headway in their effort to create consensus around changing Senate procedural rules, a key step that could allow them to muscle transformative legislation through the narrowly divided chamber.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, recently eased his longstanding opposition to changing the filibuster rules, which create a 60-vote threshold for most legislation to pass.
“I’ve concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule,” said King, who acknowledged that weakening the filibuster would likely prove to be a “double-edged sword” under a Republican majority.
Democrats still face long odds of passing their bill, now known as the Freedom to Vote Act, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., excoriated Wednesday as a federal “election takeover scheme.” But the softening of King's stance on the filibuster amounts to progress, if incremental, for Senate Democrats as they look to convince others in their caucus to support a rule change.
“What we can’t accept is a situation where one side is calling for bipartisan debate and bipartisan cooperation while the other refuses to even engage in a dialogue,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, said from the chamber's floor.
The Democrats' voting bill was first introduced in March in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. It quickly passed the House at a time when Republican-controlled legislatures — many inspired by Donald Trump's allegation of a stolen 2020 election — were advancing restrictions in the name of election security.
But initial optimism that the measure would swiftly pass the Senate dissipated after several members of the Democratic caucus, including King, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, among others, made clear their reluctance to change the filibuster rules. Manchin, who has said that any election overhaul needs bipartisan support, also sought changes to the voting bill to make it more palatable to Republicans.
As written, the current “compromise” version of the bill would establish national rules for running elections, limit partisanship in the drawing of congressional districts and force the disclosure of many anonymous donors who spend big to influence elections.
Other provisions are aimed at alleviating concerns from local elections officials, who worried that that original bill would have been too difficult to implement. And some new additions are aimed at insulating nonpartisan election officials, who some contend may be subject to greater partisan pressure under some of the new state laws.
It also includes a number of changes sought by Manchin, the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, including a provision that would limit, but not prohibit, state voter ID requirements.
But so far, those changes have not attracted the Republican support that Manchin was seeking.
“The latest umpteenth iteration (of the bill) is only a compromise in the sense that the left and the far-left argued among themselves about exactly how much power to grab and in which areas," McConnell, who recently met with Manchin about the bill, said Wednesday. “The same rotten core is all still there.”
Hours later, Republicans denied Democrats the 60 votes needed to debate the measure on the Senate floor.
That gives Democrats few options and little time to act on a major party priority while their restive base has become increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress on the issue.
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