Senate Republicans are poised to block a sprawling Democratic voting rights and government ethics bill Tuesday, as federal efforts to respond to a rash of restrictive ballot laws passed by GOP-held state legislatures hit a wall.
The For the People Act aims to set up automatic voter registration, expand early voting, ensure more transparency in political donations and limit partisan drawing of congressional districts, among other provisions. Democrats pushed for the reforms before the 2020 election, but called them more necessary to protect the democratic process after former President Donald Trump’s false claims of electoral fraud sparked an attack on the Capitol and restrictive state voting measures.
The House passed its version of the bill in March. The measure will likely fail a procedural test in a Senate vote later Tuesday, as Republicans signal they will vote against starting debate on the bill.
The plan will need 60 votes to advance in the Senate split 50-50 by party.
“Should the United States Senate even debate how to protect the voting rights of our citizens? There’s only one correct answer,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said ahead of the vote, contending Republicans are “afraid” a discussion about the bill will shine a light on state-level efforts “to deny the right to vote.”
Republicans have framed the legislation as a power grab by Democrats. They have argued states rather than the federal government should have leeway to set election laws.
The GOP has also questioned the need for a new bill to protect voting rights. Republicans have downplayed the restrictive laws in states such as Georgia and Florida, which took steps including making it harder to vote absentee and limiting ballot drop-off boxes. Critics of the measures say they will disproportionately hurt voters of color and give GOP officials more power over election outcomes.
Ahead of the Senate vote, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the Democratic bill a “transparently partisan plan,” stressing it was in the works before Republican-led legislatures passed voting laws.
“The Senate is only an obstacle when the policy is flawed and the process is rotten,” he said.
Schumer disputed the argument that the federal government should not exert its will on election laws. He pointed to past bills such as the Voting Rights Act that protected voters from discrimination.
The For the People Act has little chance of revival in the current Senate. At least two Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — oppose scrapping the legislative filibuster, which would allow the party to pass more bills without Republicans.
Liberals have urged the party to abolish the 60-vote threshold as Democrats pursue their priorities with control of the White House and narrow majorities in the House and Senate.
But Manchin has signaled he would oppose the Democratic-led bill, potentially killing chances of its passage even without the filibuster. He has said he wants to pass a voting rights plan with GOP support, despite Republican opposition to more modest plans to protect ballot access.
Manchin proposed a potential compromise, which includes Democratic-backed provisions such as 15 days of early voting for federal elections and automatic voter registration at state motor vehicles agencies. It also calls for voter identification requirements, which Republicans have typically supported.
McConnell shot down the plan, arguing it contains the “rotten core” of Democrats’ bill.