Senate Republicans blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Act from advancing on Wednesday when the Senate took a procedural vote on whether to open debate on the legislation.
The John Lewis voting bill that the Senate considered is aimed at fighting voter suppression and restoring and updating key parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965. The measure is named in honor of the civil rights icon and late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
At least 10 Republicans would have needed to join with all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus for the legislation to advance. That was not expected to happen as most Republicans have decried any Democratic attempts to enact new voting legislation in the current Congress as partisan and unnecessary.
Democrats have been under intense pressure to pass voting legislation as the party currently holds a majority in both chambers of Congress and the White House. But efforts by the party to do so have run into a wall of opposition in the Senate as a result of GOP resistance.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced a Senate version of the legislation early in October. Earlier this week, Leahy, along with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Dick Durbin of Illinois, released an updated, bipartisan compromise version of the bill making changes to the text to garner bipartisan support.
The bipartisan compromise could only later be offered as an amendment if the Senate were able to proceed to the bill.
Murkowski, the lone GOP senator who had been expected to vote to advance the bill on Wednesday, spoke on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
“I will be among those who vote to begin debate on this measure when we have this vote in a few minutes,” she said, “I will do so because I strongly support and I believe that Congress should enact a bipartisan, re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act.”
Speaking of efforts to broker bipartisan compromise, Murkowski said, “At this point, I feel that we’ve got a good foundation to help provide access to the ballot that is equal for all Americans and free from any form of discrimination. We should all be able to support legislation to assure just that much.”
“I believe in standing up and voting. I hope that every member, whether Senate Republican or Democrat, will look at what we’ve been able to accomplish and let us debate the bill, open it up, have votes up or down, have a real debate,” Leahy said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“If you don’t allow a debate on the voting rights act, if you don’t allow the Senate to vote on people’s right to vote, what are you doing here?” he asked.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the legislation at a separate news conference on Tuesday.
“This is a Trojan horse to carry a lot of other provisions that the Democrats had wanted to enact through the earlier voting rights bill that we’ve already considered and rejected,” he said.
“Clearly they want to change the subject away from how the American people feel about this administration, about the reckless tax and spending bill onto a nonexistent problem with this marching out of the John Lewis voting rights act,” he said.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
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