A major voting reform bill has passed the House of Representatives, but it appears unlikely to proceed in the Senate, as Democrats cannot rally their caucus to surmount a Republican filibuster.
The bill is a combination of two measures passed by the House, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Both bills have been heavily promoted by President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – NY).
The bill’s future has been cast into doubt by senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two moderate Democrat holdouts who have refused to vote for an exemption to the filibuster in order to allow the bill to pass.
Senate Democrats currently hold a narrow majority of 50 seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. However, with all Senate Republicans opposing the bill, Schumer and the Democrats lack the power to surmount the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
While Manchin and Sinema have both said that they support the electoral reform bill, they have opposed making any changes to the filibuster rule, denying Democrats even the simple majority needed to do so.
This likely policy defeat has caused a great deal of consternation among Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have been persistently beleaguered by their failure to unite a diverse caucus that includes everyone from Manchin and Sinema to democratic socialist Bernie Sanders (I – VT). While Schumer is nominally the leader of Democrats in the Senate, in practice he has spent the past year trying to unite several vastly different factions within his party.
In a speech given last week in Atlanta, Biden encouraged the Senate to allow the bill to pass by simple majority vote, and compared opponents of the bill to segregationist politicians Bull Connor and George Wallace, and Confederate president Jefferson Davis.
Although the prognosis for the passage of the electoral reform bill is grim, Schumer plans to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote anyway.
The probable defeat of the bill will serve as a heavy blow for the Biden administration’s domestic agenda. It comes on the heels of the failure of the Senate to reach a compromise on the proposed Build Back Better Act, which was also blocked by members of Biden’s own party.