Sinema kills chance for filibuster change: I won’t ‘worsen the underlying disease of division’

Democratic senator’s statement puts much legislation out of reach

John Bowden
Thursday 13 January 2022 18:02
<p>Kyrsten Sinema </p>

Kyrsten Sinema

Sen Kyrsten Sinema ripped apart Democratic voters’ hopes of seeing changes to the filibuster that would allow voting rights legislation to pass in a speech on Thursday that reiterated her support for both the legislation itself and the 60-vote threshold that is keeping its passage an impossibility.

In a floor speech, the Arizona Democrat portrayed the Senate’s rule allowing members to block debate on legislation with a 41-vote minority as a necessary tool for safeguarding democracy in a time of unprecedented political divisions.

“I strongly support, and will continue to vote for legislative responses to these state laws,” said the senator.

But, she added: "I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country."

“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold on a party line with the thinnest of possible majorities to pass these bills that I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office,” said the senator.

Her decision means that just about all major legislation is out of reach for Senate Democrats until the 2022 midterms at the very least, when Democrats could expand their control over the chamber or, possibly more likely, see it fall into Republican hands.

It also means that the legislation being pushed by Democrats to reform voting systems around the country and cut back on various GOP attempts to restrict actions such as voting by mail or assisting those in line to vote with food or water is dead. Activists have warned for months that the legislation is necessary to prevent a cementing of Republican control around the country launched in response to the 2020 election in which the GOP saw President Joe Biden win two states, Georgia and Arizona, that are typically won by Republicans.

Ms Sinema reiterated her support for voting rights legislation to address those Republican-led efforts to restrict voting on Thursday, and described efforts by GOP state legislatures expected to make voting harder for many Americans part of a “larger, more deeper problem facing our democracy”. Such laws, she said, have “no place” in a fair and functioning system.

Despite that condemnation, her remarks are likely to cause an escalation of activists’ efforts to persuade her and Sen Joe Manchin, a fellow holdout Democrat, on the issue as the legislation’s backers have said in interviews that the legislation must pass by the end of January to have immediate and noticeable effects on the 2022 midterms.

A group of more than two dozen Black faith leaders are currently hunger striking in support of the legislation’s passage and reform of the filibuster, and a separate group of Arizona-based student activists are expected to resume their own hunger strike following Ms Sinema’s comments.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris went down to Georgia earlier this week for national addresses on the issue of voting rights where Mr Biden decried GOP opponents of the legislation as on the side of Jim Crow figures like former Gov George Wallace and Jefferson Davis.

Republicans’ “endgame” was to “ turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion — something states can respect or ignore,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday.

The speech infuriated Republicans in the Senate, making it all the more unlikely that any will support his voting rights push, and appeared to have little to no effect on Ms Sinema’s position which has been major issue of division between the senator and others in her own party for months.

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