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Senate Dems set up a possible path for voting rights legislation

Senate Democrats weren't able to advance a voting rights bill before their August break, but they did keep the issue alive.

For many voting-rights advocates, there were at least some hopes that Congress would try to take dramatic action on the issue before members' August break. That did not happen.

But before lawmakers made a beeline from Capitol Hill to the airport, the Senate did keep the prospect for action alive. The Washington Post reported this morning:

Under mounting pressure to advance the issue, Senate Democrats moved to set the stage for a new round of procedural votes in mid-September after Republicans objected to the immediate consideration of several voting bills in the wee hours Wednesday.

It was just before 4 a.m. (E.T.) this morning when the Senate approved an ambitious budget resolution, which was followed 15 minutes later by a very different kind of vote.

The Democrats' For the People Act has technically been stuck in the Senate Rules Committee for a while, and to bring the measure to the floor, members needed to vote on something called a motion to discharge. That's a complicated name for a simple act: a discharge vote brings a bill stuck in an evenly divided committee to the floor.

And so, in the very last step before the Senate's summer break, the narrow Democratic majority approved the motion to discharge the For the People Act on a 50-49 vote. Literally every member of the Democratic conference, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), voted together on this.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Isn't the For the People Act dead?" you're asking. "Didn't Manchin help kill it?"

The short answer is, yes, the democracy-reform package, as originally designed, is no more. The slightly-less-short answer is, the process isn't over just yet.

"Let there be no mistake about what is going on here," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said early this morning. "We have reached a point in this chamber where Republicans appear to oppose any measure, any measure -- no matter how commonsense -- to protect voting rights and strengthen our democracy.

"Let there be no mistake, both inside this chamber and outside of it: Republicans have formed a wall, a total wall, of total opposition against progress on voting rights in the United States Senate. Even on an issue as sacred as the right to vote, Senate Republicans refuse to allow even a debate. They're afraid to debate it. Yesterday morning, we saw what it looks like when the Senate comes together. This is what it looks like when it doesn't."

Soon after, the New York Democrat added that he's been participating in detailed talks with a group of senators -- Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, Oregon's Jeff Merkley, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Georgia's Raphael Warnock, California's Alex Padilla, Virginia's Tim Kaine, Maine's Angus King, and Montana's Jon Tester -- on a new, compromise voting rights bill.

Schumer concluded that the group has made "a great deal of progress" on a bill, and voting rights will be the first matter of legislative business when the Senate returns to session next month.

To be sure, there's no reason to believe GOP senators will ever budge on protecting voting rights, and no bill, no matter how narrow or carefully tailored, will overcome a GOP filibuster.

But as we discussed last week, the fact that these senators continue to work on this legislation is notable in its own right. Whether or not you always agree with the relevant players, these senators aren't dumb. They're well aware of the legislative arithmetic, and it seems unlikely that they'd invest time and energy into an important bill that was doomed from the outset.

It's against this backdrop that the senators have dug in anyway. Watch this space.

Postscript: Though much of the attention is understandably focused on the upper chamber, the Democratic-led House is planning to curtail its summer break and return to work on Aug. 23. According to a message House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sent to members yesterday, among the proposals the institution will take up is voting rights.