WASHINGTON — Democrats’ strategy to begin a Senate debate on voting rights began to crumble Thursday when two key moderates reiterated their support for keeping the filibuster, another Democrat quarantined with COVID-19 and President Joe Biden expressed doubt that landmark legislation would land on his desk anytime soon.
A day that began with momentum for Senate Democrats soon devolved into another day of disappointment as the chamber barreled toward a self-imposed Jan. 17 deadline to pass two measures — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — even if that meant they’d have to change long-standing filibuster rules to do so.
But by the end of the day, it appeared Democrats lacked the votes to accomplish either.
Ahead of a Biden visit to Capitol Hill to rally Democrats, centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., reiterated her longstanding support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation and her opposition to Democrats’ efforts to weaken it.
“While I continue to support these (voting rights) bills,” Sinema said in a 20-minute floor speech, “I will not support separate actions that would worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has led Republican opposition to the bills and to efforts to abandon the filibuster, said Sinema “saved the Senate as an institution.”
Biden left the meeting with Democrats unconvinced that he had swayed Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., another key moderate.
“I hope we get this done, but I’m not sure,” Biden told reporters. “I don’t know that we can get it done, but I know one thing: As long as I have breath in me, as long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting.”
Later Thursday, Manchin issued a statement reiterating his opposition to eliminating or weakening the filibuster.
Also complicating the timetable was news Thursday that Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, was quarantining after he tested positive for COVID-19, despite being vaccinated and boosted. It was unclear how that might impact the voting schedule.