Despite a record turnout in the 2020 election, and the desires of the vast majority of Americans and marches and protests led by civil rights groups across the country, two Democratic senators joined all 50 of their Republican cohorts to effectively kill legislation aimed at securing voting rights for all citizens.
Democrats’ attempt to change filibuster rules to pass a voting bill failed amid opposition from moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The vote was 52-48, with Manchin and Sinema joining all GOP senators.
Republicans in the chamber roundly cheered the final vote, which took place after two African Americans in the Senate — South Carolina Republican Tim Scott and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker — exchanged hostile words.
Despite voter suppression laws that have passed in many GOP-led states since false claims made by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Scott accused Democrats of exaggerating the extent of legislation that most agree make it difficult for African Americans to vote.
“In the United States today, it is more difficult for the average African American to vote than the average white American. That is not rhetoric. That is fact,” Booker countered. “Don’t lie and say there’s not a disparate voting reality for Blacks and whites in this country right now. The facts speak differently.”
Booker listed a host of statistics that proved that African American voters are targeted for disenfranchisement.
“I know this is not 1965. That’s what makes me so outraged,” Booker said. “It’s 2022, and they’re blatantly removing more polling places from the counties where Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented.”
While Manchin and Sinema remain steadfast in opposition to changing filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation, the GOP has used the rule five times to stop the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote measure.
Democratic leaders proposed a talking filibuster that would have ensured any lawmaker who opposed the legislation would come to the Senate floor and speak in opposition. Once the speeches would end, a simple majority vote would occur before final passage, effectively eliminating the 60-vote threshold established by the filibuster.
The backlash from civil rights groups and constituents was swift.
“From marching in the streets to turning out to voting booths in record numbers, working people have sent a clear message that we are ready for change,” said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry. “Tonight, all 50 Republicans and two Democrats drew a line in the sand to say that they have no interest in standing with their constituents and working with the Biden administration to move our country forward.
“The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act — a legislative package addressing voting rights, racial gerrymandering, and ending corporate big money special interest groups — is too critical to our nation’s progress for these Senators to keep using a Jim Crow relic known as the filibuster to play politics,” Henry said.
Margaret Huang, President and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said the U.S. Senate failed to stand up for the fundamental right to vote of all Americans and “dealt a seismic blow to our democracy by defending an archaic rule at the expense of American voters, particularly voters of color.”
“Allowing a minority of politicians to block essential voting rights legislation supported by a majority of Americans and a majority of U.S. Senators is unacceptable and indefensible given the history of this country. This same repressive political maneuver was used to delay enactment of the original 1965 Voting Rights Act,” Huang said.
Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, called the vote a sad and tragic day for America.
“As a result of lockstep opposition to basic measures to safeguard our democracy and the refusal of Sens. Sinema and Manchin to agree to rules reform to win passage of legislation that they support, America now faces a frightening future,” Weissman said. “Republicans across the country are engaged in a concerted effort to make it harder for people of color to vote.
“Extreme partisan and racial gerrymandering is stripping voters of meaningful influence,” he said. “And proto-fascist forces motivated by Trump’s Big Lie are actively organizing to subvert elections in 2022 and 2024 — aiming to override actual results with predetermined outcomes.”
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson called the Senate vote “shameful” and revealing of “who stands for and who stands against democracy.”
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 took three attempts to pass into law, so we will continue to fight,” Johnson said. “Anything short of protecting the right to vote is a death sentence for democracy. The fight is far from over.”