CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate is unlikely to pass voting rights legislation or change the filibuster this week as two members remain opposed to adjusting the chamber’s rules.
Senators could take up a legislative package on voting and elections as early as Wednesday, but Democrats lack the 60 votes required to advance the measure. The Democratic senators — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — are against revisions, providing Senate Republicans an opportunity to block voting rights legislation.
Republicans were successful in the last session in preventing measures from getting to President Joe Biden’s desk.
The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act combines two separate election-related measures; the legislation would allow same-day and automatic voter registration, provide mail-in ballot access and early voting opportunities during federal elections, and renew the federal government’s ability to review election laws in areas where officials previously limited voter accessibility.
Democrats control the split Senate, but the caucus cannot accomplish its policy goals without meeting the 60-vote threshold required to end debate on bills.
Democratic senators have proposed revising the rules to let the Senate pass voting rights legislation with a simple majority. The Senate modified the filibuster in 2013 and 2017 to allow 51 votes for confirming nominations and Supreme Court justices.
Manchin and Sinema supported both bills individually, but their opposition to changing the filibuster has not wavered. Republicans oppose the voting rights legislation as well as revising the filibuster.
“I don’t know why we can’t come together and find a pathway forward,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday. “There’s no checks and balances in this process. The only thing we have is the filibuster.”
Manchin contends the filibuster is a necessary tool for providing the minority party with a voice.
“Think if you have a situation that we have right now, where you have the executive branch of government, you have Congress — the House and the Senate — they’re all the same,” he said. “Basically, you can just sweep right through it. And the same thing can happen if Republicans have everything.”
He said regarding his Democratic colleagues, “They’ve changed. They’ve changed their mind. I respect that. You have a right to change your mind. I haven’t. I hope they respect that, too. I’ve never changed my mind on the filibuster.”
Democrats have prioritized voting rights legislation in response to state legislatures passing restrictive measures. Public officials have also cited former President Donald Trump’s false claims about a stolen 2020 presidential election as an additional reason.
“As we debate these measures, the Senate is going to confront a critical question: Shall the members of this chamber do what is necessary to pass these bills and move them to the president’s desk?” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday. “The right to vote is vital, and both the proponents and opponents know it.”
Schumer proposed a “talking filibuster” on this single bill; senators would have to stand in the Senate chamber and explain their opposition to the voting rights package.
“If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote — which is the cornerstone of our democracy — then the Senate rules must be reformed,” he said.
When asked about the “talking filibuster,” Manchin said he opposed the idea.
In a social media video, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called Manchin and Sinema’s stance regarding the filibuster “equally pathetic” to Republicans’ opposition to the legislation.
“I would hope very much that those two Democrat senators — Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin — will rethink their position and understand that the foundations of American democracy are at stake, and I hope they will join 48 of us and allow us to win this enormously important vote,” Sanders said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., supported revising the filibuster in 2017 over Supreme Court nominations. She maintains the filibuster should remain intact when the Senate considers legislation.
During a press conference last week, Capito said allowing a simple majority would permit future Congresses to undo legislative work following a flip of party control.
“All kinds of different swings to our policies, and that’s not good for our country,” she said. “We need to stay, I think, in a more predictable fashion that the filibuster affords for us.”
Capito and Republicans also argue voting rights legislation would equip the federal government with overreach into how states manage elections.
“Let’s let the legislatures set the way that they want to see votes, and I think as you see more and more people voting, you’ll see that the accommodations are being made in states to make sure that happens,” she said.
Civil rights organizations are pushing Democrats to pass voting rights legislation. NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson sent a letter Tuesday to all senators urging their support for the package.
“Senators, our democracy may be standing in its final hour. The bedrock of freedom in America lies in our sacred right to vote. Without it, everything else crumbles,” he said. “We still have time to act, but the window of opportunity is rapidly narrowing. Let’s not miss this critical moment to pass federal voting rights protections, what may be our last hope to save our democracy.”
West Virginia sports figures have reached out to Manchin. Jerry West, Chelyan native and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member; Nick Saban, Fairmont native and University of Alabama football coach; Oliver Luck; former West Virginia University quarterback and WVU athletic director; and Darryl Talley, former WVU linebacker, sent a letter last week urging Manchin to back voting rights legislation. Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also signed the letter.
“We should all support the right to vote. Everyone,” Manchin said. “But not breaking the rules to make new rules.”
Manchin noted the letter sent to journalists did not include a footnote related to Saban’s support for the filibuster. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins first reported the footnote, which states Saban believes eliminating the filibuster would “destroy the checks and balances we must have in our Democracy.”
West and Saban endorsed Manchin’s 2018 reelection bid, with the football coach saying in an advertisement he does not “have a better friend or know a better person than Joe Manchin.”
Manchin’s current term does not expire until January 2025. He told reporters he is not afraid of being challenged in the 2024 primary election.
“I’ve never run an election I wasn’t primaried. It’s West Virginia. It’s rough and tumble. We’re used to that,” he said. “So bring it on.”