Democrats in the United States Congress suffered a crushing defeat in their effort to pass a major election reform bill, but they say they have more tools at their disposal to counter Republican efforts in several states to roll back expanded voting procedures.
“It will be a long march, but we will make it,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declared after Democrats voted unanimously on Tuesday to begin debate on voting rights legislation – but fell 10 votes short of advancing such legislation due to the 60-vote threshold required by filibuster rules.
Given Senate Republicans’ staunch opposition, Schumer faces a difficult battle. Although he did not specify the next steps, he did drop hints along the way.
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, said this week that breaking up a voting rights initiative into smaller pieces would put Republican resolve to the test.
Democrats used tough rhetoric to emphasize how critical they believe it is to establish national voting standards before the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans seek to reclaim majorities in the House and Senate.
“Our American democracy is in jeopardy, and today, every single Republican senator voted against saving it.” Democrats will not back down in our fight,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Our Republic is at a crossroads, and it is up to us to save it.”
Senate Republicans have argued that Washington should stay out of states’ decisions about how to conduct presidential and congressional elections.
Republicans have justified the new laws by citing former President Donald Trump’s false claim that widespread fraud caused his election defeat in November. Numerous court decisions, as well as Trump’s own administration, have refuted that claim.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar told reporters on Tuesday that she is still negotiating the details of a compromise proposal floated by moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
This could serve as the basis for a new Senate vote. Klobuchar praised Manchin’s efforts, saying he has used a “expansive definition” of what qualifies for voter identification and has agreed to other elements important to Democrats.
Democrats could also introduce legislation that would restore Washington’s oversight of certain states’ changes to election laws, and then build a more comprehensive voting rights bill on top of that. Some Republicans have indicated a willingness to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late civil rights leader and Democratic congressman.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Klobuchar announced a series of field hearings to examine the impact of Republican efforts to toughen voting laws in various states. Those hearings could help Schumer make decisions about future moves.
The most contentious move Schumer could make will hang over this effort: An attempt to change or repeal the long-standing “filibuster” rule, which now allows minority Senate Republicans to block Democratic legislation, as they did on Tuesday.
To advance legislation, the filibuster requires at least 60 votes in the Senate’s 100-member chamber. To change the rule, all 50 Democrats and independents would have to vote yes – a step that Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema so far have opposed.