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As the House passes voting rights package, a Senate showdown looms

The good news for voting rights advocates is, the House passed a key package today. The bad news is, Kyrsten Sinema won't budge on the filibuster.

Let no one say Democratic leaders aren't trying to protect voting rights. Party leaders crafted a specific legislative plan, the first part of which was executed this morning. The New York Times reported:

The House passed a repackaged set of voting rights bills on Thursday, pushing past Republican opposition and hurriedly sending the legislation to the Senate to force a showdown over the fate of the measures and the reach of the filibuster. Acting as part of a Democratic plan to expedite consideration of the bills in the Senate, the House approved the new measure on a party-line vote of 220 to 203 after a heated partisan debate in which lawmakers clashed over the state of election laws across the country.

The number of House Republicans supporting the package was literally zero. Democratic support, meanwhile, was also unanimous.

In terms of the legislative and procedural mechanics, the plan is complex and a little unusual. Today's vote combined both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, adding them to an unrelated Senate measure, as part of a "message" bill. The entire package now heads to the upper chamber, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will take advantage of a quirk in the rules to allow for a floor debate that would otherwise be blocked. (For you procedural nerds out there, the Democratic leader is filing a motion to concur with the House amendment.)

Of course, while having a debate is a positive development, the goal is to actually legislate, govern, and protect voting rights.

And the odds of success on this front are quickly approaching zero.

Under the Democratic leaders' plan, Schumer will bring the package to the Senate floor. A series of complicated steps will follow, some including the parliamentarian, culminating in one unavoidable question: Are there 50 votes to change the rules and allow the Senate to protect voting rights by majority rule?

The answer is apparently no: Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema delivered remarks on the Senate floor this morning, explaining that she strongly supports both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but she won't allow any additional changes to the chamber's filibuster rules.

The Arizonan's explanation was odd and unpersuasive — she said, among other things, that the filibuster ensures that only bills broadly supported by the American people can pass, which is demonstrably ridiculous — but it will nevertheless dictate the outcome. Unless Sinema changes her mind, which now appears extremely unlikely, there simply won't be enough votes to complete the party leadership's plan.

And even if Sinema were to surprise everyone and have a dramatic change of heart, there's still Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to consider. With the conservative West Virginian also very unlikely to go along with his party's plan — Manchin praised Sinema's remarks today as "excellent" — and Republicans unanimously opposed to the entire effort, voting rights advocates will apparently come up two votes short.

It's not literally over. President Joe Biden is on Capitol Hill, trying to twist arms, and will soon speak at a Senate Democratic luncheon. He might even reference Barack Obama's first post-presidency op-ed, published in USA Today this morning, in which the former president said protecting voting rights and strengthening our democracy is more important than preserving the filibuster.

What's more, Schumer will likely follow through on the plan anyway, bringing the matter to the Senate floor, and forcing members to cast up-or-down votes in one final showdown.

But barring a miracle, the door appears to be closed.