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Senate to vote on sweeping voting rights bill Republicans promise to filibuster

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WASHINGTON — This week could be the last dance for federal voting rights legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is moving Monday to set up a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act, which is likely to take place Wednesday.

Schumer, D-N.Y., who said it has the support of all 50 Democratic-voting senators, said the bill is necessary to "right the ship of our democracy and establish common sense national standards to give fair access to our democracy to all Americans."

The bill doesn't have the 60 votes it needs to overcome a guaranteed Republican filibuster, meaning it will die unless Democrats nuke the filibuster. They don't have the 50 votes for that, and they'd need something close to a miracle to get them.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised that the measure "will go nowhere," labeling it a "partisan power grab" to "micromanage elections across America."

He said it was a product of "far-left hysteria about our democracy."

The sprawling bill would set minimum standards for voting access in all states — including automatic and same-day voter registration, two weeks of early voting and the establishment of Election Day as a public holiday. It also seeks to protect nonpartisan election officials from undue interference.

It is a pared-back version of the For the People Act, to give states more flexibility in some policies and allow state-based voter ID, largely designed to win the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key holdout on the previous version.

"I thank Senator Manchin and the other members who have admirably sought common ground with our Republican colleagues. I hope Republicans now join us in common-cause to protect the integrity of our democracy," Schumer said.

That's extremely unlikely to happen. What remains to be seen is whether Democrats steamroll the GOP. Some have suggested a carve-out to the filibuster for voting rights. But Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., despite supporting the bill, want to keep the 60-vote rule.

"We know McConnell is going to filibuster next week to prevent a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act. The question is what President Biden and Senate Democrats do next. Do they throw in the towel or fight to amend the filibuster and save the republic?" said Ezra Levin, a co-founder of the group Indivisible, which has sought to build support for a voting rights overhaul.

Levin said any hope of success for Democrats will require Biden's "active, enthusiastic engagement on filibuster reform." Biden has championed new voting rights protections, but he has been reluctant to push to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, where he served for 36 years. He has called for it to be modified to force a minority to hold the Senate floor and speak while it is blocking bills.

Eli Zupnick, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide who leads a coalition of groups pushing to end the filibuster, said the coming need to lift the debt ceiling could build pressure to change the rules if Republicans make good on their vow to block it.

"These next six weeks are make or break for President Biden and Senate Democrats," Zupnick said. "They're either going to tackle the filibuster and do something to protect voting rights and our democracy, or they're going to spend the next year wishing they had and offering weak excuses to voters for why they didn't."

But some Democrats are pessimistic.

A Democratic aide speculated that Schumer is unlikely to twist Manchin's arm on the filibuster while he needs his votes to pass the Build Back Better legislation, Biden's top priority.

"I think it will just result in another block of floor speeches about how outrageous it is that Republicans are blocking election reform," said the aide, fearing it would be a "show vote."

"Ultimately, I think Chuck is using it to fill time while they work out how to move forward on reconciliation," the aide said. "I highly doubt that he wants to do anything with filibuster reform that would upset Manchin while he still desperately needs him on reconciliation."

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