Sinema doubles down on filibuster defense amid GOP’s assault on voting rights

Sinema doubles down on filibuster defense amid GOP’s assault on voting rights
Kyrsten Sinema, image via Screengrab.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is doubling down on her commitment to upholding the archaic legislative filibuster as congressional Democrats and the White House attempt to chart a path forward for their voting rights agenda amid the GOP's nationwide—and intensifying—assault on the franchise.

In recent months, Senate Republicans have used the 60-vote filibuster rule on three separate occasions to block debate on a sweeping pro-democracy bill known as the For the People Act; Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) compromise measure, the Freedom to Vote Act; and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore parts of the Voting Rights of 1965 that were gutted by the Supreme Court.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted to start debate on the third measure, but the Senate GOP unanimously filibustered the other two, imperiling Democrats' hopes of negating the dozens of voter suppression laws enacted this year by state-level Republicans around the country.

Despite the GOP's continued obstruction of popular voting rights bills, Sinema and Manchin—the most outspoken, but not the only, filibuster defenders in the Senate Democratic caucus—have refused to waver in their support for the 60-vote rule, which progressives have condemned as a relic of the Jim Crow era.

The filibuster can be weakened or abolished with a simple-majority vote, meaning every member of the Senate Democratic caucus and Vice President Kamala Harris—the tie-breaker in the upper chamber—would have to support the move.

In comments to the Washington Post published Saturday morning, Sinema made clear that she remains unwilling to modify or abolish the filibuster rule.

"My opinion is that legislation that is crafted together, in a bipartisan way, is the legislation that's most likely to pass and stand the test of time," Sinema said. "And I would certainly encourage my colleagues to use that effort to move forward."

Given that Democrats have virtually no chance of winning the support of 10 Senate Republicans for any meaningful voting rights legislation, campaigners have voiced outrage over Sinema's repeated expressions of faith in the potential for bipartisan compromise—particularly as time is running out to stop the GOP from gerrymandering their way back to a House majority.

"[Senate Republicans] and two Democrats are using the filibuster to destroy and undermine the life of this democracy and the daily lives of people," Rev. Dr. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said of Sinema and Manchin during a Wednesday rally in Washington, D.C., where around 200 activists were arrested while demanding federal action to protect voting rights.

The Post noted Saturday that Sinema and Manchin's support for the filibuster means that a "last-ditch voting rights push that [Democratic Party] leaders and activists are planning for the closely divided Senate in the coming months is likely to fail."

Tiffany Muller, executive director of the advocacy group End Citizens United, told the Post that while "we are not out of time yet," the "time to act is now" as the GOP's aggressively partisan redistricting plans take effect and as Republican-controlled state legislatures push additional voter suppression measures.

"The attacks that our democracy are under are only increasing with each day," Muller said.

In a blog post on Monday, Brennan Center for Justice president Michael Waldman wrote that while Trump and the GOP's failed effort to overturn the 2020 election "had absurd elements... [n]ext time it won't be so amateurish."

"In fact, Trump's allies are systematically removing obstacles to stealing elections in states across the country," Waldman noted. "Two state legislatures have bestowed upon themselves the power to remove and replace local election officials with partisan operatives. Six states have passed laws threatening election officials with new or heightened criminal penalties. Three states have robbed election officials of the power to properly regulate partisan poll monitors in the polling place. Five states launched phony partisan reviews of last year's election results led by biased actors who employed inadequate safeguards."

"We cannot wait for the election sabotage movement to progress further," he added. "Anti-democracy advocates have made their intentions clear. It is time to repudiate them, and to stand up for democracy."

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