Sinema, Manchin Slammed, Debate Begins 01/18 06:20
Facing stark criticism from civil rights leaders, senators return to Capitol
Hill under intense pressure to change their rules and break a Republican
filibuster that has hopelessly stalled voting legislation.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Facing stark criticism from civil rights leaders,
senators return to Capitol Hill under intense pressure to change their rules
and break a Republican filibuster that has hopelessly stalled voting
The Senate is set to launch debate Tuesday on the voting bill with attention
focused intently on two pivotal Democrats -- Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe
Manchin of West Virginia -- who were singled out with a barrage of criticism
during Martin Luther King Jr. Day events for their refusal to change what civil
rights leaders call the "Jim Crow filibuster."
Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights leader, compared
Sinema and Manchin to the white moderate his father wrote about during the
civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s -- a person who declared support
for the goals of Black voting rights but not the direct actions or
demonstrations that ultimately led to passage of the landmark legislation.
"History will not remember them kindly," the younger King said, referring to
Sinema and Manchin by name.
This will be the fifth time the Senate will try to pass voting legislation
this Congress, as elections officials warn that new state laws are making it
more difficult to vote in some parts of the country.
The House has passed the package, but the legislation is stalled in the
Senate, opposed by Republicans. With a 50-50 split, Democrats have a narrow
Senate majority -- Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie -- but they
lack the 60 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.
Once reluctant to change Senate rules, President Joe Biden used the King
holiday to pressure senators to do just that. But the push from the White
House, including Biden's blistering speech last week in Atlanta comparing
opponents to segregationists, is seen as too late, coming as the president ends
his first year in office with his popularity sagging.
"It's time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they
stand," Biden said on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. "It's time for every American
to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?"
The Senate is launching what could become a weeklong debate, but the outcome
is expected to be no different than past failed votes on the legislation. Biden
has been unable to persuade Sinema and Manchin to join other Democrats in
changing the rules to lower the 60-vote threshold. In fact, Sinema upstaged the
president last week, reiterating her opposition to the rules changes just
before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to court senators' votes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had shelved a promised Monday
rules change vote that would have been linked to the King holiday. But he is
pressing ahead Tuesday as advocates push to put senators on record, despite the
expectation that no bill will pass by week's end.
Senators have been working nonstop for weeks on rules changes that could win
support from Sinema and Manchin, only to see their efforts repeatedly dashed.
The two senators, both moderates, have expressed openness to discussing the
ideas, but have not given them their backing.
Both Manchin and Sinema have argued that preserving the Senate filibuster
rules as they are, at the 60-vote threshold to advance legislation, is
important for fostering bipartisanship. They also warn of what would happen if
Republicans win back majority control, as is distinctly possible this election
year, and could easily pass GOP-backed bills.
Sinema came under particularly fierce criticism on social media for invoking
King as well as the late Rep. John Lewis, whose name is on the legislation,
despite her refusal to change the rules.
Blame also fell to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading
his party against the voting legislation. The Kentucky Republican has argued
the legislation is a federal overreach into state-run elections, and he harshly
criticized Biden's speech last week as "unpresidential."
Civil rights leaders have implored the Senate to act swiftly, as states are
passing laws that many argue will make it more difficult for Black Americans
and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, refusing to allow water
distribution in long lines and requiring certain types of identification.
"We cannot think of a time more defining to the American story than the
chapter you are presently writing," NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson
wrote in an open letter to the Senate.
"What country will your children and grandchildren be left with, given the
relentless assaults on American freedom and democracy?"
Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in a statement late Monday: "Senator
Manchin believes strongly that every American citizen of legal age has not only
the right, but also the responsibility to vote and that right must be protected
by law. He continues to work on legislation to protect this right."
Sinema's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The voting bill was the Democrats' top priority this Congress, and the House
swiftly approved H.R. 1 only to see it languish in the Senate.
Now called the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, the package before the
Senate includes some of the most sweeping changes to elections in a generation,
including making Election Day a national holiday and requiring access to early
voting and mail-in ballots that became overwhelmingly popular during the
The package is coupled with the John R. Lewis Voting Advancement Act, which
would require voting protections that had been stripped by the Supreme Court
and would again allow Justice Department scrutiny of states with a pattern of