This week, the Senate once again considered landmark voting rights legislation to offset the efforts of Republican legislatures in more than a dozen states to limit access to the ballot box.
On Thursday, the Senate prepared to consider the newly-merged and House approved Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, now known as Freedom to Vote: The John R. Lewis Act. The bill would impose mandatory minimums for early voting windows, make Election Day a national holiday, restrict politicized removal of election officials, protect against unlawful voting roll purges, and a host of other actions.
But in an evenly-divided Senate, the bill is almost certainly dead before it hits the floor. Senate Democrats' only hope of its passage is some modification of the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to move past a floor debate.
Most Senate Democrats have spoken in favor of reforming the filibuster or even eliminating it all together in order to render the Senate productive again, but two of the body's most conservative Democrats—Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—have refused to consider any modifications whatsoever.
In a Senate floor speech on Thursday, Sinema emphasized her support for the bill, but ruled out any possibility of bypassing a filibuster in order to pass it.
The Senator said:
"There is no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There’s no need for me to restate its role protecting our country from wild reversals in federal policy. ... But when one party needs only negotiate within itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle toward the extremes.I understand there are some on both sides of the aisle who prefer that outcome, but I do not. I know that Arizonans do not either."
Arizonans beg to disagree—or at least one of the state's top Democrats, Arizona House Democratic leader Reginald Bolding.
Bolding issued a lengthy statement after Sinema's floor speech, excoriating her failure to protect the right to vote.
Bolding wrote, in part:
"Senator Sinema defends the antiquated Jim Crow-era filibuster by arguing that any rights granted by passage of a new voting rights act under regular order could be rolled back in future years if Republicans regain power. I challenge her to step outside the DC bubble and take a closer look around her state and her country. Those rights are being systematically rolled back right now -- here and in state legislature around the country."
He concluded by invoking the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, for whom the bill is named:
"Given the choice to cement the legacy of John Lewis or stomp on it, I will never understand the speech Senator Sinema delivered today."
The statement was met with widespread agreement.
Bolding was far from the only one to challenge Sinema's position.
Sinema voted in favor of a filibuster carve-out as recently as last month, to raise the debt ceiling.