Debate over Voting Rights begins in Senate

In a seemingly pointless attempt to shame Senate Republicans—as well as two key Senate Democrats—by putting them on the record voting “nay” on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Democratic leadership Wednesday pushed forward with debate that is expected to lead to a vote on the bill sometime Wednesday evening. The legislation aims to enact sweeping reforms to “modernize and revitalize the VRA [the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act] by strengthening legal protections against discriminatory voting policies,” but has been described as dead on arrival by outlets ranging from Fox News to NPR to The New York Times

Blocked by unified opposition among Republican senators, as well as an intransigent refusal to entertain even modest filibuster-compromise by Democratic senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, Wednesday evening’s vote is sure to fall short of the 60 vote threshold necessary to see the bill become law. But this impending failure doesn’t seem likely to scare Senate Democrats off the push for a vote that is, for all intents and purposes, symbolic

“We all have to be recorded at this moment in time about where we are in protecting the right to vote,” said Senator Tim Kaine on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “Right now, it doesn’t look like it has the votes to pass, but we’re going to cancel our Martin Luther King Day recess and be there this week because we think it’s so important for the country.” 

The song and dance of forcing an on-the-record vote in the Senate offers the country an entire on-the-record day of renewed rhetorical attacks from both sides. Democrats will continue to portray Republican opposition to the bill as tantamount to upholding voter suppression in a year that has seen 19 Republican state legislatures around the country enact restrictive voting legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans will redouble their efforts to portray the Left as hysterical and disingenuous, claiming that federal intrusion into state’s voting laws is tantamount to ensuring (white) minority oppression for years to come. 

Additionally, after Manchin tanked Biden’s Build Back Better plan (on-air on Fox News, of all outlets), the failure of the voting rights bill to move through the divided Senate will represent President Biden’s second major initiative to be blocked by members of his own party in less than a month. 

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