WASHINGTON (AP) — All but acknowledging defeat, President Joe Biden said Thursday he’s “not sure” the Democrats’ major elections and voting rights legislation can pass Congress this year. He spoke at the Capitol after a key fellow Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, dramatically announced her refusal to go along with changing Senate rules to muscle the bill past a Republican filibuster.
Biden had come to the Capitol to prod Democratic senators in a closed-door meeting, but he was not optimistic when he emerged. He vowed to keep fighting for the sweeping legislation that advocates say is vital to protecting elections.
“The honest to God answer is I don’t know whether we can get this done,” Biden said. He told reporters, his voice rising, “As long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting.”
Sinema all but dashed the bill’s chances minutes earlier, declaring just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill that she could not support a “short sighted” rules change.
She said in a speech on the Senate floor that the answer to divisiveness in the Senate and in the country is not to change filibuster rules so one party, even hers, can pass controversial bills. “We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy,” she said.
The moment once again leaves Biden empty-handed after a high-profile visit to Congress. Earlier forays did little to advance his other big priority, the “Build Back Better Act” of social and climate change initiatives. Instead, Biden returned to the White House with his agenda languishing in Congress.
Biden spoke for more than an hour in private with restive Democrats in the Senate, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who also opposes changing Senate rules.
Manchin said in a statement later: “Ending the filibuster would be the easy way out. I cannot support such a perilous course for this nation.”
Since taking control of Congress and the White House last year, Democrats have vowed to counteract a wave of new state laws, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, that have made it harder to vote. But their efforts have stalled in the narrowly divided Senate, where they lack the 60 votes out of 100 to overcome a Republican filibuster.