WASHINGTON – President Biden and Senate Democrats were faced with a tightening range of options on Monday to advance their ambitious agenda, as the reality was that they would not be able to maneuver past rules that did Allow Republicans to block most of their legislative proposals.
Clear statements from Senator Joe Manchin III. of West Virginia on Sunday that he would oppose a sweeping suffrage bill and would never vote to end the filibuster bill cast a cloud over a Washington weakly controlled by Mr. Manchin’s party. They forced the Democrats to weigh up a two-pronged strategy that would reduce them to holding symbolic votes to highlight Republicans’ intransigence on their highest priorities and limit their legislative hopes to anything enforced under the quick balance rules could be.
Publicly, the Democrats said they would not abandon voting rights, nor would they limit their legislative agenda to measures that would have significant numbers of Republican supporters. But they admitted they were pondering how to move forward in a 50-50 Senate where their main swing vote had effectively stated that it would not support any measure that lacked Republican support.
“Right now we should assume that HR 1 won’t pass the Senate, so we need to find out what that can do,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, of the voting measure, also known as the For the People Act.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that Mr. Biden believes “we need to move forward,” but couldn’t say how he would suggest it.
“We’ll keep up with the democratic leadership as it looks from here, but I have no preview of the next steps,” she said.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, has scheduled a series of votes over the next three weeks which he believes will test Republicans’ willingness to compromise, including equal pay and the electoral law measure. Heads of State and Government will also take up Mr Manchin’s proposal to proceed with a more restricted voting rights act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, despite the lack of support from the 10 Republicans who would be needed to overcome a filibuster .
“He now has a great responsibility to show that this is the case and that he can bring people together to address the issues that he himself identifies as a problem,” said Zac Petkanas, a democratic strategist, of Mr. Manchin . Otherwise, “he will personally uphold the things he believes in.”
If these efforts fall to Republican filibusters, the Democrats hope that Mr. Manchin and other reluctant Party members will reconsider their positions.
“We need to start testing this idea that the filibuster is promoting bipartisanism,” said Connecticut Democrat Senator Christopher S. Murphy, who is trying to find 10 Republicans who support laws that mandate universal background checks for gun buyers. “I would hope that everyone is open to their theories being wrong when they don’t have evidence to prove their theories.”
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, dismissed the Democratic strategy as “an agenda that is transparently designed to fail – and will fail.”
For several months, a range of issues beyond voting rights were worked on, including climate change, immigration and wage equity, as if the Senate could change the rules on filibuster if necessary. A separate attempt was made to get Mr. Manchin on board as the 50th vote for the voting measure.
Reality had arrived on Monday.
And that reality will mean that Mr Biden will need to take executive action whenever possible to achieve many of his goals, such as: For example, reintroducing strict regulations for power plants, cars and trucks to combat climate change.
And Senate Democrats will have to use a budget rule called reconciliation to avoid a Republican filibuster from tax hikes, infrastructure projects, climate change measures, and social spending on health care, general preschool, and higher education.
Activist groups could hardly contain their anger.
“Joe Manchin should be concerned about what history will say about where he was when the voting rights were attacked,” said Stasha Rhodes, a voting organizer for the voting rights coalition, Just Democracy.
Mr Schumer said Monday that he has no intention of putting the suffrage bill on hold, which would nullify bills passed by 14 Republican-controlled state parliaments to restrict early and postal voting, allow observation of party elections, and more for elected parliaments Power to issue election results. Senate Democrats were due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the way forward, the same day Mr. Manchin was due to meet with Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, to their pleas to hear his support.
Regardless of Mr. Manchin’s position, Schumer said that a vote would take place as planned in the week of June 24th “to protect voting rights and American democracy.”
“My colleagues need to be put on record and held accountable,” said Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal on Monday.
At the same time, Mr. Biden and the Senate Democratic leaders were working to keep Mr. Manchin on board with a push for a full infrastructure package. Mr. Biden was due to speak again Tuesday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the leading Republican negotiator, to discuss the scope of an infrastructure bill and how it should be paid. And senators hired Mr. Manchin over possible incentives for his vote, such as a long-awaited clean production initiative already included in the finance committee’s rules, to pay for road, bridge, tunnels and transit expenses.
Still, Democrats had to admit that after weeks of efforts, their initial efforts to move Mr Manchin to what was perhaps their highest priority – voting rights – had failed. The Democrats took an inside-outside approach, using liberal organizations and civil rights activists to put Mr Manchin under political pressure, while small groups of senators turned to him privately to address his main concerns about the voting law and what will be tweaked could be named or thrown overboard in order to win him over.
However, Mr Manchin did not raise any specific political objections that could be resolved. He just wanted at least one Republican to support the bill – and practically veto the minority party.
Democrats have options. For example, you could break down the For the People Act into individual measures to expand voting rights, curb campaign funding abuse, and restore ethical standards and transparency to the Donald J. Trump-shaken executive.
Mr Blumenthal said that if Mr Manchin stood firm, talks on legislative strategy would pick up, but stressed that he did not want to repeal the law.
“These measures are about ending campaign funding corruption and political self-exaltation in a way that is fundamental to maintaining our democracy, along with maintaining access to the right to vote, which is central to our democracy “, he said. “We may have choices before us, but we have to be very careful about the sacrifices we might make if we rethink what For the People contains too radically.”
Another option would be to expand the reach of the suffrage law that Mr Manchin claims to support, the John Lewis Act, which would restore state oversight of state electoral laws to protect minorities who might be attacked.
Other Democrats were looking for a way forward.
“There’s really a lot at stake right now; this country is having a conversation with itself about whether we want to be a democracy, ”Murphy said.
“Do we have to pass every single provision in the For the People Act to save democracy?” He added. “No, but we’re approaching a scenario where we don’t do any of this, and that is potentially catastrophic.”
The presidential advisers warned that there was little more Mr Biden could do to expand freedom of choice outside of an executive order that he had issued in March. Other executive orders on sensitive subjects such as gun control have been tried with little effect.
White House officials also pointed out that there are areas of cooperation: the Senate stands ready to approve the first round of federal judges nominated by Mr. Biden and a huge industrial law to curb the competitive threat from China.
But Liberal Democrats and constituencies on Monday flashed their frustration, not just over Manchin, but also over the White House, which they believe is insufficiently engaged in an issue they believe democracy is on the scales. The nightmare scenario the Liberals propose is that the Republicans will take control of Congress next year and extend their control over state governments, in part because of restrictive electoral laws. Then they use their new power to nullify the results of close state competitions in 2024 to sell the White House to the G.O.P.
Last week, Mr. Biden directed Vice President Kamala Harris to pursue voting rights. She immediately traveled to Central America to deal with her other major problem, the flood of migrants on the southwestern border.
“He said he would use whatever tools he could and ‘fight like the hell,'” said Stephen Spaulding, senior counsel for public order and government affairs for the Common Cause constituency, of Mr Biden’s recent remarks on promoting the For the People Act by the Senate. “Now is the time.”