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Biden backs filibuster changes for voting rights legislation; Sinema, Kelly not ready for vote

Posted at 5:30 AM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 00:44:15-05

WASHINGTON — In a forceful speech about voting rights Tuesday, President Joe Biden endorsed changing Senate filibuster rules to pass legislation, saying it's time to choose "democracy over autocracy."

Biden noted that he had been having "quiet conversations" with lawmakers for the past two months.

“I’m tired of being quiet," said Biden, who had previously not endorsed getting rid of the filibuster.

"We need to know what side you're on."

Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, both of whom are co-sponsors of the voting rights legislation, say they are not ready to vote to change the rules regarding the filibuster.

"I'm not going to make a decision for the best interests of democrats in Congress or the Senate. I'll make a decision based on what's in the best interests of Arizona and the country," Kelly said.

Sinema said the filibuster is needed to "protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions and further erode Americans' confidence in our government."

"It is time for the Senate to publicly debate its rules, including the filibuster, so senators and all Americans can hear and fully consider such ideas, concerns, and consequences. If there are proposals to make the Senate work better for everyday Americans without risking repeated radical reversals in federal policy, Senator Sinema is eager to hear such ideas and -- as always -- is willing to engage in good-faith discussions with her colleagues," Sinema's office said.

With a vote on the filibuster potentially just a few days away, no proposal to change it has been put forth for Senators to consider.

"I'm not worried about the election in November. Anything we do, we should disassociate those two things,"  Kelly said. "It's always more important to get things right than to get it done early." 

The two voting rights bills introduced by Democrats in the past year are the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Accountability Act.

The Freedom to Vote Act is a more broad piece of legislation that would take steps to prevent gerrymandering, expand access to voting by mail and expand voter ID laws so that more forms of ID — not just driver's licenses — are accepted.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Accountability Act focuses on racial discrimination in Congressional redistricting. That law would force any proposed Congressional redistricting to be "precleared" to ensure they're drawn equitably.

Republicans have outright rejected the Democrats' voting rights legislation.

"I'm making it clear, to protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights," Biden said in the speech in Atlanta on the campus of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College.

Georgia is one of several states where Republicans last year passed legislation that severely limits access to the polls, particularly for people of color.

Often, Republicans pushed those bills in the name of election security as misinformation about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election spread through the party.