The vote on the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was 49-51. It broke evenly along party lines, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., switched his vote to “no” in the end for procedural reasons. It fell short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster under Senate rules.
The Senate then voted down a motion by Democrats to change the rules and impose a “talking filibuster” aimed at passing the legislation without Republican support once debate ends.
The result was 48-52, falling short of the 50 votes needed to succeed, with Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona voting with Republicans to reject the rule change.
The series of votes all but dooms federal voting rights legislation, one of President Joe Biden’s top priorities, for the foreseeable future.
In a statement shortly after Democrats’ rule change effort failed, Biden said he was “profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy.”
Things to understand about the filibuster:
(1) It was created by accident in the 19th century
(2) For almost all of its subsequent history it was considered a radical measure, that could only be invoked on very rare occasions, and essentially never to block judicial and executive branch nominations. (Average annual number of filibusters in the Senate between 1917, when the first version of the modern rule was adopted, and 1970: One (1). Average number over the last five years: 215).
(3) By a bizarre process of normalization carried out by the radicalized GOP, it suddenly became a sacred principle of our governmental system that you needed a supermajority to pass legislation in the Senate, and that a fake filibuster — requiring no actual debate to hold the floor — would be invoked to block any significant bill that didn’t have the support of 60 senators.
This monumental change to the governing structure of the United States was carried out with no public debate of the matter, and was subsequently treated by the media as if it had always been this way, probably because it was somewhere in the Constitution or the Bible or maybe both.
The filibuster has always been a completely indefensible feature of American politics, but at least until quite recently its radical nature was recognized even by its supporters. Normalizing its use means that members of Congress representing one fifth of the US population can and will block even the most broadly popular legislation as a matter of course.
The ultimate irony here is that everybody recognizes that the filibuster is doomed. The Republicans will get rid of it, probably next year, and probably to nationalize an anti-abortion law. At that point there will be much Brodereseque swooning onto DC divans, but all this is perfectly predictable right now. ETA: I was so mad when I wrote this post that I forgot they won’t actually have the trifecta next year. So in the year 2025. If man is still alive.