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House passes voting rights bill; Sinema, Manchin oppose filibuster change

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House passes voting rights bill; Sinema, Manchin oppose filibuster change
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at her weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The House on Thursday voted in favor of a voting rights package that, thanks to opposition to eliminating the filibuster from key Democrats, is unlikely to pass in the Senate.

The lower chamber voted 220-203 to pass the bill, which is a combination of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act.

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The legislation seeks to increase access to voting across the country, including same-day voter registration, making Election Day a public holiday, setting a standard for a minimum number of early voting days and allowing mail-in voting for any reason.

"Today our nation faces the most dangerous assault on the vote since Jim Crow," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor ahead of the vote.

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She decried a growing number of laws passed in states that have restricted voting access over the past year, spurred in part by former President Donald Trump's baseless claims about election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

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The voting rights legislation, however, is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats would need a 60-vote supermajority to bypass the filibuster.

In a trip to Atlanta on Tuesday, President Joe Biden called for a change in Senate rules to end the filibuster so legislation can pass in the chamber with a simple majority vote. He'd previously been reluctant to change the filibuster rule.

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"Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world's greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self," Biden said. "As an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote. Let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.

"I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired of being quiet."

But his hopes of ending the filibuster to push through the voting rights legislation hit a major roadblock Thursday when Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced they wouldn't support a change to the Senate rules. Sinema praised the filibuster's purpose to facilitate bipartisan legislative action.

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Sinema said that while she supports the voting rights legislation, she "will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.

"We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy, and it cannot be achieved by one party alone. It cannot be achieved solely by the federal government. The response requires something greater and, yes, more difficult than what the Senate is discussing today."

Manchin later issued a statement also supporting keeping the filibuster, adding that those who seek to change the rules "do so without fully understanding the long-term institutional and democratic damage this will do to the Senate and our nation."

"As such, and as I have said many times before, I will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster."

Biden had a lunch meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill after the vote. After, he told reporters he hopes they can come to an agreement on the filibuster and voting rights legislation.

"One thing for certain, like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try the second time," Biden said.

"The state legislative bodies continue to change the laws not as to who can vote but who gets to count the votes. Count the vote. Count the vote."

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While Sinema and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer declined to comment on the meeting, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., described it as a "principled conversation."

"This is a defining moment. I think everybody has to be heard on the record. We'll keep talking to our colleagues and see what happens," he said.

"We were blocked from having a debate on voting rights this year. And I think it's important to emphasize that. What they blocked was our ability to even have a debate on the issue. They are not serious.

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