The President of the United States of America has suffered a critical legislative setback. The proposed legislation on voting, one that Democrats and civil rights leaders contend is pivotal to the protection of democracy has collapsed with the refusal of two Democrat Senators to join their party in altering Senate rules to overcome a Republican filibuster.
The outcome has been described as a “stinging defeat” for President Joe Biden and the Democrats generally, and in the event coincides with the end of his first year in the Oval Office. As it turned out, Democrats failed to persuade the “holdout” Senators, Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to change the Senate procedures on this bill and allow a simple majority to advance it. “I am profoundly disappointed,” was President Biden’s high-minded lament after the vote that wasn’t.
However, he hastened to add that he was “not deterred” ~ to summon his words ~ and signaled his intent to “explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy”. The setback for America’s ruling party coincides with the warning by voting rights advocates that Republicanled states throughout the United States, are enacting laws making it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of identification, and ordering other changes. Vice-President Kamala Harris presided over the Senate for a while with the power to break a tie in the 50-50 chamber if required; but she left before the final vote.
The proposed change of rules was rejected 52- 48, notably with Manchin and Sinema joining the Republicans in Opposition. Thursday’s night-long voting has for now brought an end to legislation that was a top Democratic priority ever since the party assumed control of Congress and the White House. Indeed, this has made the setback seem still more astonishing.
The bill, crafted by the Democrats, is called “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act”. It would make election day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots, and enable the Justice department to intervene in states with a history of what they call “voter interference”. It has already passed muster in the House of Representatives. Both Manchin and Sinema claim that they support the legislation, but Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes needed to push the bill over the Republican filibuster.
As it turned out, it failed to advance even on a largely party-line vote. In an effort to ensure that the bill could be considered later, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is reported to have cast a procedural vote against the proposed legislation. Clearly, Democrats have been unable to unite around their own objectives. It has been what is described as a “high stakes defeat” as President Biden marks one year in office.