In the wake of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda failing when Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) come out publicly as a “no” on the historic legislation, Democrats have been struggling to find a path forward. Midterms are now roughly nine months away, and there is fear among Democratic legislators that they won’t have anything to show to their constituents when getting back on the campaign trail.
Democrats have been facing a string of defeats from all corners. In addition to Biden’s signature domestic agenda being in crisis, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act have stalled. In the wake of Republican legislators passing suppressive voting laws in nineteen states, Democrats have mounted an effort to pass a federal voting rights bill that would make it easier for people to vote.
In the wake of false conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was “stolen” and the January 6 attack on the U.S. capitol, attitudes about the strength of American democracy are in low spirits. According to Public Democracy America, the Freedom to Vote Act would include “a minimum of 15 days for early voting, mail-in ballots, and making Election Day a national holiday” along with verifiable paper trails for voting systems, and protections for election officials against intimidation and partisan interference. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, and prevent discriminatory legislation from being passed in individual states.
Despite both voting rights bills being supported by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, they ultimately did not support carving out an exemption to the filibuster to get both pieces of legislation passed. Any given bill needs at least 60 votes to advance to the Senate floor, but modifying its rules merely requires a majority. As such, the story went as usual for Democrats: Due to the splintering of these two Senators, they’ve gone home empty-handed.
For Sinema in particular, there have been large consequences. She was censored by the Arizona Democratic Party, has had big donors withdraw their support, and faces what’s likely a tough primary challenge in 2024 when she’s up for reelection.
Protecting voting rights may, unfortunately, be impossible to achieve due to Sinema and Manchin refusing to make changes to the filibuster. However, Democrats are looking for ways to pass individual pieces of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda that are popular between both parties. They continue to face pressure to at least deliver something to their constituents. Although unemployment is falling and wages have increased overall, the pandemic is still running rampant. Furthermore, high gas prices and supply chain issues are things that Americans tangibly feel in their everyday lives.
Sinema and Manchin continue to have an outsized say on what Democrats can potentially accomplish. Their support of the filibuster might make sense on paper, but when it’s the sole thing that can be used every time to obstruct, obstruct some more, and obstruct again, it’s clear that it has become a corrupt tool that stands in the way of any progress being made.