Senate Democrats march forward on their all-but-doomed voting rights bills

Senate lawmakers on Wednesday are expected to debate a set of voting rights bills.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday will try to get closer to a floor vote on the two voting rights bills that have sat inactive for months in the chamber, despite having no apparent path to victory on the legislation.

The Senate had canceled a planned recess this week to debate the two bills — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — which are all but guaranteed to fail.

Senate Democrats got around a GOP filibuster to start debate on the measure, but under current rules, they would still need 60 votes to end debate and proceed to a vote. Doing so is a dim prospect given Republicans’ unified opposition to them.

Democrats hold a slim, technical majority in the chamber. Each party holds 50 seats, but Vice President Harris, a Democrat, would act as the tiebreaker in the event of an voting impasse.

Once that effort fails, Democrats are expected to try and change the filibuster in order to try to pass the voting rights bills. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed a “talking filibuster,” forcing Republicans to talk on the floor to sustain their objection to the bill. But two key holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have said they would not support changes to the filibuster, even if it means moving forward on what President Biden has said is a moral imperative to preserve the nation’s voting integrity.

“While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” Sinema said last week.

Both bills are meant to combat voter restrictions Republican-led legislatures have put into place in recent months.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon, aims to reverse a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Specifically, it would restore a requirement that mandates states with a history of voter discrimination get preclearance before changing voting laws, and it would update the formula used to determine which states must get preclearance.

The Freedom to Vote Act is even more sweeping measure; it would, among other things, make Election Day a national holiday and expand voting by mail.

While Democrats have positioned these issues as foundational to maintaining a healthy democracy, Republicans, still reeling from their 2020 election losses, White House and Senate losses, say that recent GOP-backed laws, including limiting mail-in voting and shortening the implementing more stringent voter ID laws, are simply common sense.

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