WASHINGTON (AP) - Faced with sharp criticism from civil rights leaders, senators return to Capitol Hill under intense pressure to change their rules and break a Republican filibuster who has hopelessly stopped voting laws.
The Senate is set to launch Tuesday's debate on the ballot with attention focused intensely on two key Democrats - Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia - who were highlighted with a flurry of criticism under Martin Luther King Jr. Day events for their refusal to change it, civil rights leaders call "Jim Crow filibuster."
Martin Luther King III, son of the late civil rights leader, compared Sinema and Manchin to the white moderate his father wrote about during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s - a person who declared support for the goals of black suffrage, but did not the direct actions or demonstrations that ultimately led to the adoption of the landmark legislation.
"History will not remember them kindly," said the younger king, referring to Sinema and Manchin by name.
This will be the fifth time the Senate will try to pass voting legislation this Congress as election officials warn that new state laws make it harder to vote in some parts of the country.
The House has passed the package, but legislation has stalled in the Senate, contrary to Republicans. With a 50-50 split, Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate - Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie - but they lack the 60 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.
Once reluctant to change Senate rules, President Joe Biden used the royal holiday to pressure senators to do just that. But the White House push, including Biden's blistering speech last week in Atlanta, comparing opponents to segregationists, is seen as too late as the president ends his first year in office with his popularity declining.
"It's time for all elected officials in America to make it clear where they stand," Biden said on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. "It's time for every American to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?"
The Senate is launching what could be a week-long debate, but the outcome is not expected to be any different from previous failed legislative votes. Biden has not been able to persuade Sinema and Manchin to join other Democrats in changing the rules to lower the threshold by 60 votes. In fact, Sinema elevated the president last week and reiterated his opposition to the rule changes just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to judge the senators' votes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., had shelved a promised Monday vote to change the rules that would have been associated with the royal holiday. But he is pushing on Tuesday while advocates are pushing to get senators on record, despite the expectation that no bill will be passed by the weekend.
Senators have been working non-stop for weeks on rule changes that could win support from Sinema and Manchin, only to see their efforts repeatedly stopped. The two senators, both moderates, have expressed openness to discussing the ideas but have not given them their backing.
Both Manchin and Sinema have argued that it is important to uphold the Senate filibuster rules as they are, at the threshold of 60 votes to promote legislation, to promote bipartisanship. They also warn about what would happen if Republicans regained majority control, as is clearly possible in this election year, and could easily pass GOP-backed bills.
Sinema came under particularly harsh criticism on social media for invoking King as well as the late Representative John Lewis, whose name appears on the legislation, despite her refusal to change the rules.
The blame also fell on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading his party against the voting law. The Kentucky Republican has claimed the legislation is a federal overhaul of state-run elections, and he harshly criticized Biden's speech last week as "unpretentious."
Civil rights leaders have asked the Senate to act quickly as states pass laws that many claim will make it harder for black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling stations, refusing to allow long-distance water distribution and requiring certain types of identification.
"We can not think of a time that is more defining of American history than the chapter you are currently writing," NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson wrote in an open letter to the Senate.
"What country will your children and grandchildren be left with, given the relentless attacks on American freedom and democracy?"
Manchin spokeswoman Sam Runyon said in a statement late Monday: "Senator Manchin is convinced that every American citizen has not only the right but also the responsibility to vote, and that right must be protected by law. He continues to work on legislation. to protect this right. "
Sinema's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The ballot was the Democrats' top priority this congress, and Parliament quickly approved HR 1 only to see it languish in the Senate.
Now called the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, the package before the Senate contains some of the most radical changes to elections in a generation, including making Election Day a national holiday and requiring access to early voting and ballot papers that were overwhelmingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The package is linked to the John R. Lewis Voting Advancement Act, which would require voting protection, which had been revoked by the Supreme Court and would again allow the Department of Justice control of states with a pattern of election violations.