US senators scupper President Joe Biden’s push to defend voting rights

Jan 20, 2022: According to an AFP report, US senators have thwarted pressure from President Joe Biden to defend voting rights, which Democrats have called a full-blown attack by conservative states to target ethnic minorities.

The ruling Democrats failed to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advance Act, which the House of Representatives passed last week, in the face of a bloc from the upper house Republicans complaining of over reach from the federal government.

“I am profoundly disappointed that the Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy. I am disappointed — but I am not deterred,” Biden said in a statement posted to social media immediately after the vote.

“We will continue to advance necessary legislation and push for Senate procedural changes that will protect the fundamental right to vote.”

Democrats and voting rights activists have backed the move as a necessary response to Republican efforts to restrict voting, especially among blacks and Latinos.

Democrats hold a technical majority of one in the evenly split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to act as a tiebreaker on 50-50 votes. But with no Republicans breaking ranks, Democrats were unable to overcome the so-called “filibuster” — the 60-vote threshold required to take proposed legislation to a vote in the Senate.

Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to lower the bar to break filibusters specifically for voting rights, a gambit known as the “nuclear option.” Schumer proposed re-instating the “talking filibuster,” forcing Republicans to speak on the floor to sustain their opposition, and introducing a limited carve-out exemption from the 60-vote threshold.

But after moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema sided with Republicans to vote no, that effort also fell short.

With widespread pressure to strengthen voting rights, Democrats have the option of pursuing a narrow, cross-party effort to secure the election. This would likely include funding to help protect election officials from threats and tightening the process Congress uses to certify presidential elections every four years. 

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