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Sinema opposes changing filibuster ahead of Biden visit, another obstacle to voting rights push

Republicans see it as ‘nail in the coffin’ for voting rights legislation

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has opposed eliminating the need for 60 votes to invoke cloture on legislation.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has opposed eliminating the need for 60 votes to invoke cloture on legislation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema did not wait for President Joe Biden to address the Senate Democratic caucus to renew her opposition to getting rid of the 60-vote requirement to break filibusters of legislation in the Senate — effectively killing the voting rights legislation the president and Democratic leaders say is necessary to safeguard elections.

The Arizona Democrat said she supported the underlying voting rights legislation that Democrats on Capitol Hill and the White House want to advance, but made clear that eliminating the 60-vote threshold to cut off debate on legislation will not be a rules change that she will support.

“These bills help treat the symptoms of the disease, but they do not fully address the disease itself and while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division affecting our country,” she said.

The senator called the efforts by state legislatures to restrict voting rights attempts to “undermine faith that all Americans should have in our elections in our democracy.”

Regardless of the sentiment behind Sinema’s speech, Republicans cheered its effect. Senate Republican Whip John Thune, who was among those in the chamber for Sinema’s speech, said the remarks “should put kind of the nail in the coffin of the idea that somehow [the Democrats] might eventually win.”

That being the case, Thune said he hoped Democrats would just get it over with quick and throw in the towel. “So the question is when they want to lose? And is losing later in the weekend or on Monday, optically advantageous for them politically, because I think right now, that’s what it’s all about,” Thune said, adding that his preference would be for Democratic leaders to move forward Thursday on a House-passed bill and “tear the Band-Aid off.”

In her speech, Sinema went on to say she was aware of the problems the voting legislation would address.

“Threats to American democracy are real. I share the concerns of civil rights advocates and others I’ve heard from in recent months about these state laws,” Sinema said. “I strongly support those efforts to contest these laws in court and to invest significant resources into these states, to better organize and stop efforts to restrict access at the ballot box.”

“It’s more common today to demonize someone who thinks differently than us, rather than to seek to understand their views,” she said. “Our politics … exacerbate these divisions, making it more and more difficult to find lasting, broadly supported solutions to safeguard our freedoms, keep our country safe and expand opportunity for all our citizens.”

Earlier Thursday, the House passed, 220-203, an amended measure that consolidates provisions of two voting rights and election law bills, including one named for the late civil rights leader, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

The move, which Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., had previewed on Wednesday, provides Senate Democrats with a measure on which they can begin floor debate without needing to achieve 60 votes to break a filibuster of the motion to proceed.

In effect, the Democrats are briefly delaying the underlying debate about curtailing the Senate’s legislative filibuster.

“As we continue this important conversation about the future of our democracy, I ask my democratic colleagues to consider the following: If the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?” Schumer said in a floor speech.

The remarks by Schumer and Sinema came ahead of Biden’s scheduled visit to the Russell Senate Office Building to meet with the Democratic caucus about voting rights legislation and potential Senate rules changes to help advance the bill.

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