WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Congress suffered a bruising defeat in their drive to pass a major election reform bill but said there are more tools at their disposal to overcome Republican efforts in several states to roll back expanded voting procedures.
"It will be a long march, but it's one we are going to make," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proclaimed after Democrats voted in lock-step on Tuesday to launch a debate on voting rights legislation – but still fell 10 votes short of advancing such a bill, thanks to the 60-vote threshold required by filibuster rules.
Given Senate Republicans' solid opposition, Schumer has a tough battle ahead. Although he did not detail the next steps, there have been hints along the way.
For example, Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, this week spoke of breaking up a voting rights initiative into smaller bits that might test Republican resolve.
Democrats employed tough rhetoric to underscore how important they think it is to establish national standards for voting, before the 2022 midterm elections when Republicans seek to regain majorities in the House and Senate.
"Our American Democracy is in peril, and today, every single Senate Republican voted against saving it. Democrats will not be deterred in our fight," House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Our Republic is at a crossroads, and it is up to us to save it."
Senate Republicans have argued that Washington ought to stay out of states' decisions on how they conduct their elections for president and Congress.
Republicans have justified the new laws by citing former President Donald Trump's false claim that widespread fraud led to his November election defeat. Numerous court decisions have repudiated that claim, as did Trump's own administration.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar told reporters on Tuesday that she is continuing to negotiate with moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin over the details of a compromise proposal he has floated.
That could become the basis for another Senate vote.
Klobuchar praised Manchin's efforts and said he has used an "expansive definition" of what would qualify for voter identification he wants included in a bill and has agreed to other elements important to Democrats.
Democrats also could pursue a bill that would restore Washington's oversight of certain states' changes to election laws and build a more expansive voting rights bill upon that. Some Republicans are on record as potentially supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late civil rights leader and Democratic congressman.
Klobuchar said after Tuesday's vote that she would launch a series of field hearings to examine the impact of Republican efforts to toughen voting laws in various states. Those hearings could help guide Schumer's decision on future moves.
Hanging over this effort will be the most controversial move Schumer could take: An attempt to change or kill the long-standing "filibuster" rule, which now gives minority Senate Republicans the ability to repel Democrats' legislative initiatives, as they did on Tuesday.
Under the filibuster, at least 60 votes are needed in the 100-member Senate to advance legislation.
To change the rule, all 50 Democrats and independents would have to vote yes – a step that Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema so far have opposed.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Gerry Doyle)
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