Republicans dig in and prepare to sink Democrats’ voting rights bill

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<span>Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Senate Republicans are preparing to unanimously block Democrats’ marquee election reform legislation, in a move that sets the stage for a bitter showdown over the future of voting rights across America and the survival of the filibuster rule.

Related: Republicans slap down Manchin’s voting rights compromise – US politics live

The Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and a dozen top lieutenants said on Thursday that they would vote down the bill known as S1, predicting that not a single Republican would cross the aisle to join Democrats.

McConnell also said Republicans would not support S1 even if a revised version, with changes amenable to Republicans, was introduced.

“Equally unacceptable, totally inappropriate – all Republicans, I think, will oppose that,” he said.

The opposition from McConnell, who commands deep and authoritative control over Republicans in the Senate, is all but certain to ensure the failure of S1 when the bill is set to be introduced on the Senate floor next week.

Democrats are relying on S1 to expand ballot access and tighten controls on campaign spending as they attempt to roll back a wave of new Republican voter restrictions, passed in response to Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 presidential election. The Republican measures are set to have a particular impact on communities of color, and are seen as likely to suppress the Democratic vote.

The bill was revised this week to include a number of Republican priorities, including voter ID requirements, after longtime Senate Democratic holdout Joe Manchin indicated he would extend his support if his party made the changes to secure bipartisan support.

But McConnell’s forceful denunciation, making clear that no election reform bill has a chance of passage, suggests the futility of seeking bipartisanship with a Republican party openly committed to thwarting Democrats’ legislative agenda.

The expected blanket opposition from Republicans came soon after the revised S1 bill gained a notable endorsement from senior Democratic figure and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, who said on CNN she would absolutely support the proposal, and heralded it as the first step to preserving democracy.

Abrams, a former Georgia candidate for governor credited with helping deliver Joe Biden the presidency, is unpopular with Republicans – and they quickly used her words of support to call the revised S1 bill unacceptable.

“When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed senator Manchin’s proposal, it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute,” said Roy Blunt, the top Republican on the Senate Rules committee, which oversees election issues.

The resistance from McConnell and his lieutenants is likely to head off the growing push for election reform legislation, but it also threatened to reopen the simmering tensions over whether to impose new limits on the filibuster.

McConnell’s hard-line approach to doom S1 is backstopped by the filibuster – the 60-vote supermajority rule that gives a united minority party ability to block any legislation – and his knowledge that Manchin remains opposed to changing that rule, even though its existance thwarts the passing of much of Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda.

But now, with Manchin’s own version of S1 in peril, some Democrats are suggesting that a party-line vote that confirms the legislation would have become law were it not for Republican opposition, would force the West Virginian to confront a reckoning with the filibuster.

Related: Stumbling block: how West Virginia politics explains Joe Manchin

The Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has already started making the case for imposing new limits on the filibuster by lining up votes on measures certain to be blocked – and demonstrate that Republicans have turned the rule into a weapon of bad-faith politics.

Schumer’s idea is to show Manchin, and a handful of other Democrats opposed to curbing the filibuster, that Republicans are only interested in sinking all Democratic policies, and that he has no choice but to defuse the rule in order to pass their legislative priorities.

The pressure to change Senate rules is also growing from Democrats in the House, where the majority whip Jim Clyburn is pushing for Manchin to support carving out an exception to the filibuster for election reform bills, according to a source familiar with the matter.

It was not immediately clear on Friday how Manchin might proceed should Republicans filibuster his own version of S1.

But as Republicans sounded the death knell for the bill, Manchin, on a recent Zoom call reported by the Intercept, told the centrist group No Labels that he was considering whether to call for lowering the filibuster threshold to 55 from 60 votes.

Such a change would still not pave the way for the passage of S1, but it would significantly improve the prospects of other Democratic measures just short of 60 votes, from narrower voting rights bills to a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Capitol attack.

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