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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave an impassioned defense of the Democratic push to enact voting rights reforms, which collapsed when two moderates joined Republicans to block a needed change in the filibuster rule.
Invoking the travails of bygone civil rights heroes, the powerful Senate majority leader said it was morally right to bring the doomed measure up for a vote even if it meant stoking outrage against Republicans and the Democrats who sided with them.
“Imagine telling Dr. King not to march from Selma to Montgomery because he could not be sure what obstacles awaited him,” Schumer said. “Sometimes, the only right option is to move forward.”
The Senate Majority leader shot down the conventional wisdom that Democrats should have cut their losses and avoided a final vote that amounted to President Biden’s major political black eye.
“The bromides of the Beltway class hold we should not have held a vote on voting rights if the outcome was not certain,” he said. “They are wrong.”
Schumer said Democratic voters and activists, who overwhelmingly back voting rights reforms, deserve to know that the party will put itself on the line for the cause, even if it means baring messy splits within its ranks.
“We lost the vote. But to have not voted would have been a far greater loss, a loss for our Democratic Party, which for generations has stood for voting rights,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also heaped praise on her fellow Democrats for not backing down even in the face of inevitable defeat.
“Advancing the sanctity of the vote .. (gave) it visibility that it would never have had without having a vote in the Senate,” she said. “He had to have a vote.”
Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress have known for many months that their marquee voting rights laws had little to no chance of passing.
All Democrats in the narrowly split House of Representatives and all 50 Democratic senators support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, eventually combined into one sprawling package.
But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) steadfastly refused to change their defense of the filibuster, which requires most laws to have 60 votes to pass.
The pair stubbornly endured weeks of ugly attacks from fellow Democrats, including punishing jibes that they are no better than Republicans or racist supporters of Jim Crow.
Leaders of both major parties typically seek to protect fellow members from such politically damaging attacks, because they know they will need their support on myriad other issues down the road.
But Schumer went ahead with the effort to tweak the filibuster, lining up a dramatic vote in which the two moderates stuck to their guns and killed the measure.