WASHINGTON – The Senate failed to advance a sweeping voting rights bill Tuesday, stalling the Democratic legislation aimed at countering recent restrictive state measures pursued in Republican-led states.
The Senate was unable to move the For the People Act to the floor for a debate. In a vote of 50-50, it fell short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. All Democratic senators voted to begin debate, while the Republicans unanimously voted to block it.
The For the People Act is largely hailed by Democrats as being necessary because Republican-led states have introduced a slew of new voting restrictions that civil rights groups fear could suppress the vote for marginalized groups and make it harder to vote overall.
The legislation aims to counter regulations that make it difficult to vote – especially for people of color. It includes provisions Democrats say would make it easier for people to vote and register to vote. These include expanding early voting and allowing for same-day voter registration.
Just hours before the vote, Democrats achieved a unified caucus with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announcing he'd back the legislation to move forward.
But despite Democrats having a united vote to advance it, the bill was never expected to advance.
Until Tuesday afternoon, questions swirled around Manchin and whether he would join Democrats in voting to proceed with the bill. He had previously criticized the legislation as being too partisan, and released a list of provisions in the bill he opposed and supported, saying then that he would not rule out voting for a modified piece of legislation.
One of the provision Manchin called for included "allowable alternatives" for voter identification. Democrats had been seeking to loosen identification requirements.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that he and Manchin had come to an agreement, and that they would take up Manchin's changes first if they get to a debate.
In a statement, Manchin said he has "worked to eliminate the far reaching provisions of" the legislation and has "found common ground with my Democratic colleagues on a new version of the bill that ensures our elections are fair, accessible, and secure."
Manchin had been meeting with Senate leaders on the bill, including Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Klobuchar told reporters Tuesday that Democrats would emerge "united behind getting votes" on the legislation. She said Republicans "are wanting to stop the debate, just like they tried their hardest to stop people from voting in Texas" and other states.
In March, it passed the House largely along party lines, with one Democrat and all Republicans voting against it. It never had any Republican support in the Senate – where it needed the support of at least 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster.
Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday morning,Schumer slammed Republicans ahead of the vote, saying former President Donald Trump's lies about election fraud in the 2020 elections has "spread like a cancer and threatens to envelop one of America’s major political parties." He continued that "it became the match that lit a wildfire of Republican voter suppression laws sweeping across the country."
"Whatever voting changes Republicans think are good for Republicans, they’ll make them – even if it means resorting to the awful, un-American act of voter suppression," Schumer said.
However, Republicans argued that the legislation was overreaching for the federal government, and elections should be left up to the states.
Speaking from the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the legislation a "transparently partisan plan to tilt every election in America permanently" in the Democrats' favor.
“But whichever label Democrats slap on their bill, the substance remains the same: It’s always been a plan to rewrite the ground rules of American politics," McConnell said.
Democrats on Tuesday continued to argue that they should at least be able to debate the legislation on the floor.
Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., asked, "Why can't we debate it on the floor and look at how to improve it?
"I think that's what frustrates progressives, moderates and many Republicans, if we're honest."
"I would love to get some support from the other side of the aisle, but frankly I don't expect we’re going to get it," Klobuchar said from the floor, prior to Tuesday's vote. She continued that "This is not the end of the line, this is only the beginning" and promised a series of hearings on voter suppression bills in states such as Georgia.
The legislation's expected failure in the Senate would be a blow to Democrats, voting rights groups, and the White House – though progressives have expressed anger that the president did not advocate more for the legislation.
Prior to the vote, President Joe Biden tweeted, "We can’t sit idly by while democracy is in peril – here, in America. We need to protect the sacred right to vote and ensure “We the People” choose our ldrs, the very foundation on which our democracy rests. We urgently need the For The People Act. Send it to my desk."
For weeks, progressives have said Biden hasn't pushed the issue enough.
“He’s not absent, but he needs to be a lot more vocal and a lot more out front,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., told CNN Tuesday morning.
The White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded when asked about Bowman's criticism that, "those words are a fight against the wrong opponent."
However, Vice President Kamala Harris, who's been tapped to lead the administration's voting rights effort, spoke with Schumer about the For The People Act over the weekend, according to a White House official who provided details on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the vice president’s outreach.
Harris presided over the Senate when it took up the For the People Act.
She's also spoken to several voting rights advocates, including Stacey Abrams, the NAACP's Derrick Johnson, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, John Yang of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and John Echohawk of the Native American Rights Fund, the official said.
The vice president has focused a number of recent events – including meeting advocates in Atlanta and in Greenville, South Carolina, and a roundtable with labor leaders in Pittsburgh on Monday – on building a national coalition to push back against state bills aimed at restricting voting rights. She’ll continue to meet with advocate groups, lawmakers and business leaders in the coming days, the official added.
There are other measures Congress can pursue on the issue, and Schumer stressed Tuesday that "we will have the vote, and then we will discuss our future. I'm not going to put the cart before the horse."
Another piece of the voting rights legislation is the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – which has not yet made it through the House.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has stressed that legislation would not be ready until the fall as it undergoes vetting this summer in preparation for expected legal challenges.
Voting rights group who have been lobbying Congress had mixed emotions about the measure’s outcome.
Stephanie Young, executive director of When We All Vote, an initiative led by former first lady Michelle Obama, said her organization would not be discouraged no matter what happens in the Senate.
“Voting is not a partisan issue,” she told USA TODAY in an interview. “The problem right now is that people are making voting out to be partisan when it's fundamentally American. It is the cornerstone, the bedrock of our democracy. But if we want to call ourselves a true democracy, we have to make it possible for everybody to vote.”
More than 70 leading companies joined When We All Vote and other voting rights groups in calling on the Senate this week to pass the legislation.
Young said the group intends to keep putting pressure on Congress, and that members are hopeful due to steps the Biden administration is taking.
But she warned that continued roadblocks could have a negative impact.
“Do I think Americans at large will feel discouraged – yeah, they could feel discouraged that the people that they elect want to prevent them or make it harder for them to vote,” Young said.
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Voting rights bill blocked in Senate with Kamala Harris presiding