Biden Expresses Doubts on Voting Rights After Closed-Door Meeting at Capitol Hill

President Joe Biden admitted Thursday he’s “not sure” his election bills will move forward after members representing key votes in the Senate expressed their unwillingness to vote in favor of changing the rules to get the bills passed.

On Tuesday, the president gave a speech in Georgia calling for the Senate to end the filibuster if needed to pass two measures to overhaul U.S. elections.

Biden made his case again in front of the Senate in a closed-door meeting at Capitol Hill on Jan. 13, but Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) had each already expressed their unwillingness to support changes to the 60-vote threshold needed to get the bills through.

Sinema said earlier Thursday, speaking on the Senate floor, that she supports the voting bills, but would “not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division that is infecting our country,” adding that there was no need to restate her support for the 60-vote rule.

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.”

Following his trip to Capitol Hill, Biden expressed his doubts about the bills to reporters.

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

One bill, named for the Georgia congressman John Lewis, who died in 2020, passed the House along party lines in August and has since stalled in the Senate. That measure would, among other things, require federal clearance for any changes made to local election rules.

The second bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, is also in the Senate. It would expand automatic and same-day registration as well as vote-by-mail and early voting.

Republicans, who are nearly unanimous in opposition to the legislation, have decried the bills as allowing for federal overreach. They also say many of the provisions in the legislation, like removing voter identification requirements and required funding for campaign ads, are not popular with American voters.

Biden has made the case that the bills represent a choice between democracy and autocracy, and that they would protect American’s fundamental right to vote—“the right from which all other rights flow.”

If the voting bills remain stalled it would mark the second major legislative failure for the Biden administration.

Manchin and Sinema have also sided with Republicans to block the president’s “Build Back Better” spending plan, which Biden has given dozens of speeches in support of.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday it’s the administration’s effort to “do hard things, try hard things and keep at it,” adding “we could certainly propose legislation to see if people support bunny rabbits and ice cream, but that wouldn’t be very rewarding for the American people.”

Nick Ciolino

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Nick Ciolino covers the White House.

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