Kyrsten Sinema Dooms Democrats' Voting Rights Push

The Arizona senator's speech opposing filibuster changes on Thursday cast a cloud over Democrats' final voting rights push.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor on Thursday to tell her fellow Democrats that she would not support changing the chamber’s filibuster rules in order to pass voting rights legislation.

“There is no need for me to restate my position,” Sinema said, as she explained she opposed changing filibuster rules that require a 60-vote supermajority to pass most laws as it would deepen the “spiraling division” in the country.

“Demands to eliminate [the 60-vote filibuster] threshold from whichever party holds the fleeting majority amount to a group of people separated on two sides of a canyon, shouting that solution to their colleagues,” Sinema said. “And that makes the rift wider and deeper.”

The dramatic speech came as President Joe Biden headed to the Senate to speak with members of the Democratic caucus about the urgency of changing the filibuster rules in order to pass a voting rights bill by a simple majority vote. The speech diminishes hopes Democrats have of enacting legislation to combat the wave of voter suppression bills passed by Republicans on the inspiration of ex-President Donald Trump’s election fraud lies in the states they control.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to hold a debate over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend on a new voting rights bill passed straight to the Senate floor Thursday morning on a party-line vote in the House. This would set up a final floor showdown over changing the filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation with the 50 votes Democrats have plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

Sinema noted that she supports the voting rights legislation that Schumer plans to bring before the Senate and opposes voter suppression laws passed by Republican senators. But she would not take action to pass them if that meant changing Senate rules.

“Nearly every party line response to the problems we face in this body, every partisan action taken to protect a cherished value has led us to more division, not less,” Sinema said.

Republicans, who are almost universally opposed to any voting rights legislation, immediately jumped to praise Sinema’s speech.

Sinema “saved the Senate as an institution,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

“Whether your agree with her or not, the fact that she is willing to stand her ground despite extraordinary pressure being placed against her is a strong indication of the person she is,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said.

“She’s clearly in their camp on that,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said about her support for the bills after praising Sinema for bucking her party on the filibuster. “A lot of these state laws, they’re not doing what Democrats are saying they’re doing.”

While Republicans came out to praise her, a potential 2024 primary challenger Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) called her out by name in a speech on the House floor.

“Today the House showed where it stands,” Gallego said immediately following Sinema’s Senate speech. “We won’t shrink from protecting our democracy and the voting rights of all Americans. It’s past time the U.S. Senate and Sen. Sinema to do the same.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the fact that Sinema said she actually supports the voting rights legislation but doesn’t support changing the 60-vote threshold shows the undemocratic nature of the Senate and its rules.

“Under any other parliamentary scenario of almost any parliament in the world, it would pass,” Hoyer told HuffPost. “This body has a filibuster which undermines democracy. This body is not a representative body.”

Hoyer noted that each state gets two senators regardless of population, which he said is unfair but at least laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

“Every state gets two votes, but then to compound it by saying not only that, but you have to have 60% of [senators], even if you have a majority, to pass [legislation], that’s not a democratic provision. It ought to be changed,” Hoyer said, adding, “I disagree with Kyrsten. And she is, by the way, a very good friend of mine, but I disagree with her on this. The filibuster has been used throughout history to deny the rights to to people.”

Voting rights and filibuster reform advocates were even sharper in their condemnation of Sinema’s position.

“History will remember Sen. Sinema unkindly. While Sen. Sinema remains stubborn in her ‘optimism,’ Black and Brown Americans are losing their right to vote,” Martin Luther King III said in a statement. “She’s siding with the legacy of Bull Connor and George Wallace instead of the legacy of my father and all those who fought to make real our democracy.”

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