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Manchin and Sinema think their pursuit of bipartisanship is admirable. It’s not.

Senators who oppose ending the filibuster are gambling with voting rights and losing big.

On Wednesday, Democrats holding the Senate majority will bring a voting rights measure to the floor that Republicans have promised to block. As Democrats also look to pass sweeping infrastructure and social spending bills, Wednesday’s vote is considered one of the last opportunities to enact federal laws protecting voting rights. 

Centrist Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have billed the Freedom to Vote Act as an alternative to a sweeping voting rights measure that passed the House in March but ultimately stalled in the Senate. In the face of Republican opposition, there’s no evidence the Freedom to Vote Act stands any better chance of advancing.

Photo illustration: Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin oppose ending the filibuster as Republicans gear up to block Democrats' voting rights bill.MSNBC / Getty Images

The proposed legislation includes automatic and same-day voter registration, two weeks of federally guaranteed early voting, and the establishment of Election Day as a public holiday. 

Without eliminating the filibuster, which Manchin and fellow conservative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have opposed, any voting rights bill is doomed to fail in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed that the centrist-appeasing bill would “go nowhere.” Still, Manchin and Sinema have been insistent about seeking bipartisan support for the bill.

Pursuing bipartisanship knowing it’s headed for a dangerous dead end is hardly admirable.

That’s what makes Wednesday’s charade all the more frustrating. With time running out on the opportunity to pass voting rights legislation, the Democratic base doesn’t need performative votes to message the party’s support for democracy — the Democratic base needs actual policies that support democracy. In fact, they’re demanding it. Both the Biden administration and Democrats running the Senate have faced urgent calls and protests from members of their own party to press forward with voting rights legislation in spite of Republican opposition. 

In a statement this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., thanked Manchin and “other members who have admirably sought common ground with our Republican colleagues.”

“I hope Republicans now join us in common-cause to protect the integrity of our democracy,” Schumer said.

Republicans have consistently opposed Democratic measures meant to bolster voting rights, with no sign of stopping. And contrary to Schumer’s claim, pursuing bipartisanship knowing it’s headed for a dangerous dead end is hardly admirable. 

Update: As expected, Senate Republicans blocked the Freedom to Vote Act on Wednesday. The Senate voted 49-51 against advancing the legislation, short of the 60 votes needed to move forward.

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