WASHINGTON (AP) – All but acknowledging defeat, President Joe Biden said Thursday he’s “not sure” his elections and voting rights legislation can pass Congress this year. He spoke at the Capitol after a key fellow Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, dramatically announced her refusal to go along with changing Senate rules to muscle past a Republican filibuster blockade.
“One thing for certain, like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we could come back and try the second time,” he told reporters, his voice rising. “As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting.”
Sinema all but dashed the bill’s chances moments earlier, declaring just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill that she could not support a “short sighted” rules change.
She said in a speech on the Senate floor that the answer to divisiveness in the Senate is not to change filibuster rules so one party, even hers, can pass controversial bills. “We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy,” she said.
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, in an interview with FOX2, said he would have supported a bill that addresses the issue of so-called “ballot harvesting”, where a third party collects absentee ballots and submits them, but that the bill supported by Democrats was aimed at keeping them in power.
“I’m sure as heck not going to support the Democrats’ effort to take control of Missouri elections away from Missouri and give it to Democrats in Washington. That’s just crazy. What they want to do is cancel our voter ID law in the state of Missouri, they want to cancel our rules on absentee ballots and ballot verification. There’s no way I’m going to support that,” the first-term Republican said.
“My mother used to say, ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ And what we don’t want to do here, though we may have already done it, is teach the lesson: if you try to adjust to a momentary challenge, when you try to dial that back, everybody will assume that you’re trying to do bad things instead of trying to save the best of the things that you tried to do,” Missouri Senator Roy Blunt said at a Capitol news conference this week.
“And, whether that’s voting by mail or drop boxes or days of early voting, I think you’re going to find that the bills they’re going to be talking about this week generally have more of all of those than states like New York and Delaware and Connecticut, and we look forward to talking about that.”
Since taking control of Congress and the White House last year, Democrats have vowed to counteract a wave of new state laws, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, that have made it harder to vote. But their efforts have stalled in the narrowly divided Senate, where they lack the 60 votes out of 100 to overcome a Republican filibuster.
“In recent years, nearly every party-line response to the problems we face in this body, every partisan action taken to protect a cherished value has led us to more division, not less,” Sinema said from the Senate floor.
For weeks, Sinema and Manchin have come under intense pressure to support a rule change that would allow the party to pass their legislation with a simple majority – a step both have long opposed.
“This effort has always been about the Senate and whether it will deliver on the mandate that communities like St. Louis sent us here to deliver: a mandate to protect our rights and save lives,” U.S. Rep. Cori Bush said in a statement prior to Senator Sinema’s announcement.”My question now is to Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema: Will you stand with the people and generations of Black leaders, activists, organizers, and agitators who have marched, bled, and died to secure our right to vote or will you stand with the white supremacists who are working to deny voting rights to millions
By BRIAN SLODYSKO and ALEXANDRA JAFFE
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed.