WASHINGTON — All but acknowledging defeat, President Joe Biden said Thursday he’s “not sure” the Democrats’ major elections and voting rights legislation can pass Congress this year. He spoke at the Capitol after a key fellow Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, dramatically announced her refusal to go along with changing Senate rules to muscle the bill past a Republican filibuster.

Biden had come to the Capitol to prod Democratic senators in a closed-door meeting, but he was not optimistic when he emerged. He vowed to keep fighting for the sweeping legislation advocates say is vital to protecting elections.

“The honest-to-God answer is I don’t know whether we can get this done,” Biden said. He told reporters, his voice rising, “As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting.”

Sinema all but dashed the bill’s chances minutes earlier, declaring just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill that she could not support a “shortsighted” rules change.

She said in a speech on the Senate floor that the answer to divisiveness in the Senate and in the country is not to change filibuster rules so one party, even hers, can pass controversial bills. “We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy,” she said.

The moment once again leaves Biden empty-handed after a high-profile visit to Congress. Earlier forays did little to advance his other big priority, the Build Back Better Act of social and climate change initiatives. Instead, Biden returned to the White House with his agenda languishing in Congress.

Biden spoke for more than an hour in private with restive Democrats in the Senate, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who also opposes changing Senate rules.

Manchin said in a statement later: “Ending the filibuster would be the easy way out. I cannot support such a perilous course for this nation.”

But Manchin and Sinema headed to the White House late Thursday to try to find a way through, according to three people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Since taking control of Congress and the White House last year, Democrats have vowed to counteract a wave of new state laws, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, that have made it harder to vote. But their efforts have stalled in the narrowly divided Senate, where they lack the 60 votes out of 100 to overcome a Republican filibuster.

For weeks, Sinema and Manchin have come under intense pressure to support rules changes that would allow the party to pass their legislation with a simple majority — a step both have long opposed.

Though Trump and other Republicans also pressed for filibuster changes when he was president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Sinema’s speech an important act of “political courage” that could “save the Senate as an institution.”

Her own colleagues weren’t as charitable.

But Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who once opposed changing the Senate rules, said, “The path forward is very difficult, particularly based upon Sen. Sinema’s statement today.” He said, “She believes that the risk of changing the filibuster is greater than the risk of what’s going on in the states. I hope profoundly that she’s right. I fear that she’s wrong.”

The Democratic package of voting and ethics legislation would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections in a generation, striking down hurdles to voting enacted in the name of election security, reducing the influence of big money in politics and limiting partisan influence over the drawing of congressional districts. The package would create national election standards that would trump the state-level GOP laws. It would also restore the ability of the Justice Department to police election laws in states with a history of discrimination.

Biden’s trip to the Capitol, where he served for decades as a senator from Delaware, was part of weeklong effort to jolt the stalled bill. On Tuesday, he gave a fiery speech in Atlanta, likening opponents of the legislation to racist historical figures and telling lawmakers they will be “judged by history.”

Republicans are nearly unanimous in opposing the legislation, viewing it as federal overreach that would infringe on states’ abilities to conduct their own elections. And they’ve pointed out that Democrats opposed changes to the filibuster that Trump sought when he was president.

But for Democrats and Biden, the legislation is viewed as a political imperative. Failure to pass it would break a major campaign promise to Black voters, who helped hand Democrats control of the White House and Congress, and would come just before midterm elections when slim Democratic majorities will be on the line.

Democrats have still pledged to force a public showdown over the bill on the Senate floor, which could stretch for days and carry echoes of civil rights battles a generation ago that led to some of the most famous filibusters in Senate history.

Schumer had initially set the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, on Jan. 17, as a deadline to either pass the voting legislation or consider revising the filibuster rules.

But Democrats shifted their strategy as they sought to pressure Manchin and Sinema. Under their new approach, which uses a procedural shortcut, they will be able to debate the bill without being blocked by a filibuster — a feat after Republicans used the filibuster four times in recent months to stop deliberation.

The mechanics work like this: The House amended an unrelated bill that was already approved by both chambers of Congress, combining Democrats voting proposals into one bill. After the House passed that bill Thursday, the Senate can debate it with a simple majority. But Senate Republicans can still block them from holding a final vote.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock questioned the wisdom of reflexively seeking bipartisanship.

“It can’t be the only important thing,” said Warnock, who is Georgia’s first Black senator. “Slavery was bipartisan. Jim Crow segregation was bipartisan. The denial of women’s suffrage was bipartisan.”

“You know what wasn’t bipartisan? Passage of the 13th Amendment,” he said, the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery.

(15) comments

William Walker

Mr. Tafoya, I agree with you. I would add, though, that there may be certain issues like Supreme Court nominations or preserving voting rights that rise to the highest level of importance, and how to reat a filibuster speaks volumes about intent.

Mike Johnson

I think your bias is showing, the so-called "voting rights" in this case are nothing but hyper-partisan approaches to cement left wing power and federalize elections. That is not Constitutional, and the current SCOTUS would certainly strike down many of these provisions. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that elections are run by the federal government, in fact, the 10th Amendment reserves that to the states.

William Walker

Mr. Johnson, Any further thoughts on the attempted coup now that there have been indictments for seditious conspiracy? I, by the way, am moe interested in norms on issues that protect the integroty of the republic than I am in righ- or left-wing power. Your obvious, to me, biases that prevent you from reading my posts fairly really get in the way of productive conversations, which is all I have been looking for. Stay well.

Mike Johnson


Joseph Tafoya

Mr. Walker, this is a pure and simple power play. There is a letter authored by Democrat Sen Chris Coons of Delaware and GOP Maine Sen. Susan Collins. The April 2017 letter came amid concerns that the GOP was going to expand the nuclear option; after Reid had done away with the filibuster on federal judicial nominees, the GOP expanded that to include Supreme Court nominees during the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. At that point, a bipartisan group of 61 senators, a majority of the Democrats, signed a letter to Senate leadership, “urging them to preserve the 60 vote threshold for legislation.” The Democrats were the minority so naturally, it was favorable for them to retain the filibuster. Many of those Democrat Senators include Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez Rhode Island, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and there are more prominent Democrat Senators who signed this document. Why are they now willing to vote to rid the filibuster? They are willing to blow up 250 years of the filibuster for a bill that allows rapists, murders, child abusers, and all criminals to vote? Currently, States make that decision. They are willing to kill the filibuster so the government can fund sitting members of Congress for reelections? And the sitting candidates can draw a salary from this. You need to read the actual bill they want to pass. There is a YouTube video of Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) given I a speech to the Senate that pretty much spells out what is at stake and why.


Lyndell Vallner

Fact...it is the right of every American Citizen to vote. It is not the right of Non-Citizens. There are presently laws that require proof of Citizenship, 2 photo IDs and signature verifications by bi-partisan poll watchers at each precinct. A driver's license alone is not proof of Citizenship...it is a Motor-voter scam.

Winning elections with ballot stuffing, mail in voting with no way to verify that the ballot was cast by a US Citizen or in only 1 State where they live...or by taking the ID of long-dead citizens is a crime. This is not about voter rights "for all"...this is about Legal American Citizens' right and privilege to vote in their own Country and States.

William Walker

What is your point? What you write is a truism. Voter farud may exist, though it is miniscule whether undertaken by Democrats or Republicans.

Please speak to the ongoing pattern of voting suppression by the GOP and the proposed nefarious means by which the GOP in some states intends to manipulate voting totals in 2022 and especially 2024. Or are those threats to democracy just a fantasy, akin to the belief that the January 6 insurrection was an unsuccessful coup attempt against our Constitutional order?

David Romero

I agree

Barry Rabkin

The US Senate should never become a mirror of the House of Representatives. Manchin and Sinema are 100% correct.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Agreed, and no doubt there are other moderate Ds there that agree with them, but because of possible political retaliation, they let Sinema and Manchin take the lead. I hope Schumer takes a vote, that will tell a lot about who really believes in breaking the filibuster every time the bare majority party wants to push something through on a partisan basis with no compromise, no unity, and no working together for the people, not the party.

David Romero

Again, Sinema and Manchin are just doing the will of their constituents. They are well aware that the GOP will take the Senate this year and will override override the filibuster to push their own agenda. Sleepy Joe is desperate for legislation to advance his agenda but he is not going to get any.

Emily Koyama

The attempt by Biden to get rid of the filibuster will come back to bite him, I think.

It gives Republicans an opening to try it after the midterms....because all the Dems screaming for it now will look like total hypocrites if they complain. I hope the Republicans don't try that, because the filibuster is useful for both sides, to prevent massive policy changes by razor thin majorities.

William Walker

The GOP has already shown that it will alter filibuster rules to suit its purpose of the moment. That's why the composition of the Supreme Court is what it is.

Joseph Tafoya

Mr. Walker, you are not entitled to your own facts. In 2013 then-Senator Harry Reid and the democrat senate changed the rules overhauling the chambers filibuster rule for certain judgeship and executive nomination in order to have a simple majority. What they did stands today and allowed then President Trump to have his nominations to the Supreme Court win confirmation with a simple majority. Many Republicans said that Mr. Reid would live to regret the rule change and he did. Apparently, the democrats did not learn from that mistake in 2013.

Mike Johnson

Well said Mr. Tafoya, so many forget, or want to not remember, what Dirty Harry did to jam through judges and nominees he wanted. The left wing Ds made this bed, now they have to lie in it. But to be truthful, I am glad Harry did it, because without him, we would not have the glorious SCOTUS we have today, thanks Harry!

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