In a 52-48 vote, lawmakers rejected a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to remake the filibuster. Two moderate Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, joined Republicans in opposition.
“For the last year, my Democratic colleagues have taken to the Senate floor … to argue that repealing the filibuster is restoring the vision the Founding Fathers intended for this deliberative body,” said Mr. Manchin. “My friends, that is simply not true.”
Apart from accusing Democrats of trying to smear the filibuster in hopes of securing support for the so-called “nuclear option,” opponents argued that gutting the 60-vote threshold would only increase national divisions.
“The Senate is what has kept the country from wildly going in one direction and back in the other,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “We don’t want to lose that.”
Democrats argued that changing the filibuster was the only way to secure passage of Mr. Biden’s voting measures: The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Both bills are central to the White House’s efforts to overturn a slew of new ballot integrity measures passed by GOP-led states since the 2020 election.
“The laws passed in legislatures throughout the country do nothing less than to discourage and prevent certain kinds of Americans, black and brown Americans … from participating in the democratic process,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. “Inaction is not an option.”
Democrats, in particular, pointed to new voter ID laws and restrictions on vote-by-mail as proof the new state laws target voters of color.
“No matter which way they did it, it all adds up to one thing,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat. “And that is voter suppression and limiting people’s freedom to vote.”
Mr. Schumer even attempted to entice wayward Democrats into supporting the change by specifically tailoring it to the voting bills.
Under the proposal, lawmakers would have been required to continuously speak in opposition to the measures. Once the speechmaking was exhausted, the bills would have been eligible to pass with a simple majority vote once the speechmaking was exhausted.
Currently, lawmakers are allowed to merely object to ending debate, forcing leaders to round up the 60 votes to keep the legislation alive.
Opponents failed to buy into the proposal. Most argued that a one-time carveout from the Senate’s rules would only set a precedent for future abuses by the majority.
“If Democrats eliminate the 60-vote rule for election legislation, there will soon be no filibuster left. Today it would be the carve-out for the election administration,” said Mr. Blunt. “Two or three weeks ago it was a carve-out for raising the debt limit. The next carve-out would be for whatever seems important that day.”
The Senate’s rejection of both Mr. Biden’s voting bills and his push to remake the filibuster poses a significant blow to the White House’s agenda. The dual defeats also come at a time when Mr. Biden is besieged by foreign crises abroad and economic challenges at home in the form of skyrocketing inflation.
Although blowing up the filibuster was always a long shot given Democratic divisions, Mr. Biden embraced the cause wholeheartedly. The president lobbied lawmakers privately and publicly, even traveling to Capitol Hill to press Senate Democrats in person.
Mr. Biden also tried to leverage the bully pulpit of the presidency, traveling to Georgia earlier this month to highlight the state’s new voter law as a tool to “disenfranchise anyone who votes against” Republicans
“Do you want to be the side of Dr. [Martin Luther] King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis,” Mr. Biden said during the Georgia swing. “This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”
• Kerry Picket contributed to this report.
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