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Senate opens debate on voting bills as Sinema, Manchin resist changing filibuster rules

Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema
Posted at 2:04 AM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 13:31:47-05

Pressure is mounting on moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to change Senate rules to advance legislation that the Biden Administration says is vital to protecting the right to vote in communities of color.

The Senate opened debate Tuesday on two voting rights bills. Both have already been approved by the House of Representatives but face an uphill battle in the Senate.

Both bills would need 60 votes to pass as the rules are currently constructed. Democrats currently hold control in 50-50 Senate, but only thanks to a tie-break vote by Vice President Kamala Harris. With no Republicans supporting the bill, the White House has advocated for changing the Senate rules to bypass the filibuster and get the bills passed with a simple majority.

However, standing in the way are Manchin and Sinema, who have signaled that they will not change the filibuster rules. Without their support, Democrats will be unable to pass the voting rights legislation.

Advocates for the bills spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday taking aim at Manchin and Sinema, pleading with them to eliminate the filibuster.

"Black and brown Americans will be watching what happens tomorrow. In 50 years, students will read about what happens tomorrow and know whether our leaders had the integrity to do the right thing," said King's son, Martin Luther King III, at the Deliver For Voting Rights Day of Action in Washington, D.C.

Even King's 13-year-old granddaughter called out Manchin and Sinema by name in D.C. on Monday.

"The Senate must do the right thing when this legislation comes to a vote tomorrow. Sen. Sinema, Sen. Manchin, our future hinges on your decision and history will remember what choice you make," Yolanda Renee King said.

The bills the Senate will be considering Tuesday are the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Accountability Act.

The Freedom to Vote Act is a more broad piece of legislation that would take steps to prevent gerrymandering, expand access to voting by mail and expand voter ID laws so that more forms of ID — not just driver's licenses — are accepted at the polls.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Accountability Act focuses on racial discrimination in Congressional redistricting. That law would force any proposed Congressional redistricting to be "precleared" to ensure they're drawn equitably.

Democrats say the bills are necessary because recent Supreme Court decisions have weakened some of the protections provided in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was passed to eliminate racial discrimination in voting laws. In addition, Republicans in several states have passed laws that make it more difficult to cast a vote — and analysts say those state laws will have a greater impact on communities of color.

The Associated Press reports that Tuesday's session opens what "could become a weeklong debate."