Biden to meet Democrats Sinema, Manchin on voting rights

Biden to meet Democrats Sinema, Manchin on voting rights

(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden arrives to deliver remarks on voting rights during a speech on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 11, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Steve Holland and Richard Cowan

(Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s attempt to rally Democrats on Thursday to alter Senate rules and pass voting-rights laws was stymied even before he arrived at the U.S. Capitol, by opposition from a key moderate lawmaker.

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said in a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday – less than an hour before Biden’s lunchtime arrival – that the “filibuster rule” that allows a minority of senators to block legislation was necessary to prevent worsening political divisions in the country.

After Biden left the Capitol following his meeting with Democrats, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin joined Sinema in opposing changes to the filibuster.

Biden is set to continue pressing his case with Sinema and Manchin, who arrived at the White House on Thursday evening, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Yet, as he left the Capitol, the president acknowledged his party may not succeed in getting a voting rights bill passed.

“I hope we can get this done, but I’m not sure,” Biden told reporters. “But one thing for certain: With every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we missed the first time, we can come back and try it a second time.”

Biden and many fellow Democrats have ratcheted up their campaign to pass voting-rights legislation after spending much of his first year in office on infrastructure and spending bills focused on COVID-19 relief, infrastructure and social safety-net programs.

They are pushing new legislation that they say would protect access to the ballot, particularly for minority voters, at a time when Republican-controlled states are enacting a wave of new restrictions ahead of the Nov. 8 congressional elections.

Non-white voters disproportionately support Democratic candidates for federal office.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a voting bill on Thursday. But Democrats cannot overcome universal Republican opposition in the Senate without changing the chamber’s filibuster rule, which requires 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation.

“This is a defining moral moment,” Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock said. “I was heartened by the words of the president.”

Independent Senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, said he thought Biden made a powerful case.

“It looks like the path forward is very difficult, particularly based on Senator Sinema’s statement today,” he said. “She believes that the risk of changing the filibuster is greater than the risk of what’s going on in the states. I hope profoundly that she’s right. I fear that she’s wrong.”

Democrats, who hold just 50 seats in the Senate, remain divided on how to get around the rule that has hampered them.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday outlined a strategy to ensure a Senate floor debate on voting rights, after three separate attempts last year were stymied by Republicans.

The House repackaged and passed two elections-related bills as one, sending it to the Senate under a special procedure preventing Republicans from blocking debate. The bill was approved along party lines.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday reiterated that Republicans oppose Democrats’ voting-rights legislation and changes to the filibuster.

Democratic former President Barack Obama wrote in a USA Today opinion piece on Thursday that the filibuster rule has become a common tool for the chamber’s minority to obstruct moves supported by the majority of voters.

“We can’t allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy,” Obama wrote.

Biden to meet Democrats Sinema, Manchin on voting rights