This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Jan. 20, 2022. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
Right-wing Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema ensured the defeat of their own party’s voting rights legislation Wednesday night by teaming up with the GOP to sink a proposed change to the Senate filibuster, leaving millions with inadequate protections as Republicans suppress ballot access nationwide.
The failed attempt to temporarily weaken the filibuster—which, in an evenly divided Senate, gives the minority party veto power over most legislation—came after the GOP used the archaic rule to block the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, a popular megabill that would restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, establish stronger federal voting rights standards, and limit the role of dark money in elections.
The Senate GOP’s obstruction Wednesday marked the fifth time that Republicans have filibustered voting rights legislation in recent months as their allies at the state level—in thrall to former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election—enact a slew of laws to restrict the franchise.
Sondra Youdelman, campaigns director for the progressive advocacy group People’s Action, warned in a statement that “right-wing and corporate-backed politicians are packing election boards, rigging voting districts, and passing voter suppression measures with an eye towards 2024.”
“We will never forget that Sens. Manchin and Sinema united with those extremists and with the GOP instead of the voters whose voices will be silenced by this slow-motion coup,” said Youdelman. “Our democracy is in free fall. An outdated Senate rule should not be more important than our democracy. We need to work harder than ever to defend our democracy by building bridges across differences, organizing our neighbors through deep canvassing, and healing together.”
The Wednesday votes spelled an end to Democrats’ last-ditch legislative push to strengthen ballot protections with the midterms on the horizon. Republicans, riding a wave of voter suppression measures and map-rigging, are widely favored to take back the House of Representatives in the upcoming elections.
“The legacy of Jim Crow is alive and well in 2022,” tweeted Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.). “That’s all I have to say right now about Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Senate Republicans.”
Following the Senate’s vote against changing the rules to briefly restore the so-called “talking filibuster,” the chamber’s Republicans gathered to shake Sinema’s hand. The Arizona Democrat is likely to face a primary challenge in 2024, and her unwavering support for the filibuster—a tool beloved by corporate America—has led prominent organizations such as EMILY’s List to renounce her.
“Kyrsten Sinema betrayed her constituents and our democracy. Joe Manchin betrayed his constituents and our democracy,” Indivisible’s Ezra Levin wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday night. “Ignore whatever spin comes from their press releases and media appearances in the aftermath of this debacle—history will not be kind to these enablers of racism and authoritarianism.”
President Joe Biden, who recently endorsed a voting rights exception to the filibuster after months of grassroots pressure, said in a statement that he is “profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy” and vowed to do everything in his power to protect the franchise.
“We will continue to work with allies to advance necessary legislation to protect the right to vote. And to push for Senate procedural changes that will protect the fundamental right to vote,” said Biden. “As dangerous new Republican laws plainly designed to suppress and subvert voting rights proliferate in states across the country, we will explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) similarly vowed to continue “working until voting rights are protected for every American,” though it’s unclear whether there is any path forward for legislation.
In a statement, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) urged the U.S. Department of Justice to use its “authority under the Voting Rights Act and aggressively challenge unconstitutional laws.”
Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also blasted defenders of the legislative filibuster, a group that includes Senate Republicans who readily eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2017.
“Critics of rules reform on both sides of the aisle have claimed that the filibuster promotes bipartisanship, when in fact, it only serves to block any legislation from actually being passed,” Jayapal said. “They claim it will create a slippery slope of changes, when in fact, the rule has already changed more than 161 times just since 1969. They argue it protects the voice of the minority—but as evidenced by 50 Republicans representing 41,549,808 fewer people than the 50 Democrats, the Senate is already built to protect it.”
“They pretend there is no crisis of voter suppression, when it is well documented that 2021 was the worst year for restrictive state voting laws in decades,” she continued. “We know why Republicans are standing on the wrong side of history today. Their party is beholden to the Big Lie that former President Donald Trump never lost the 2020 election, who himself has said that his party can’t win unless fewer people vote.”