US Senate Republicans have blocked the most ambitious voting rights legislation to come before Congress in a generation.
The move on Tuesday dealt a major blow to Democrats’ attempts to counter a slew of state-level ballot restrictions and supercharging a campaign to end the legislative filibuster.
The vote to advance the "For The People Act" split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 needed.
Republicans had already railed against the bill, calling it a partisan takeover of federal elections and exactly the sort of legislation meant to be blocked by the Senate’s filibuster.
They have, for weeks, promised that they would preclude Democrats from even bringing their bill up for debate, much less passing it.
“The Senate is no obstacle to voting laws done the right way. ... The Senate is only an obstacle when the policy is flawed and the process is rotten. And that’s exactly why this body exists,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders, however, said the defeat was only the beginning of their effort to steer federal voting rights legislation into law.
“In the fight for voting rights, this vote was the starting gun, not the finish line,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader. “We will not let it go. We will not let it die. This voter suppression cannot stand.”
Also, Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said, "Now is the time for majority rule in the Senate. We must end the filibuster, pass sweeping voting rights legislation, and protect our democracy."
Activists and many Democratic lawmakers argue that reforming or scrapping the filibuster is essential to pass legislation to move forward on major parts of Biden's agenda, including on voting rights.
"It's an important step today to get every senator on record about willingness to talk about protecting our democracy. And if that fails, then the Democrats are going to have to talk about what the next path forward is," said Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren ahead of the vote.
However, two moderate Democratic senators - Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin - have said they would oppose attempts to end it.
"The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles," Sinema wrote in an opinion column published in The Washington Post on Tuesday.
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