During a Thursday speech on the Senate floor, conservative Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) announced that she would not support changing the filibuster rule, potentially dooming any chance of voting rights legislation being passed in the foreseeable future.
On Thursday, Sinema claimed that the filibuster debate was “harried,” adding that she believed that there “could have and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year.” Her comments ignore several months of discussion (and weeks of negotiations) on the subject, both inside and outside of the Senate.
Sinema also claimed that she isn’t opposed to a “legislative response” to the voting restrictions that have been enacted in GOP-led states across the country. But she also can’t “support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division,” she said.
Her remarks came briefly after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) announced a plan to begin the process of addressing the filibuster. Schumer promised a vote to change the filibuster by next week, though he didn’t go into detail about specific changes he wants to pursue.
“Every senator will be faced with a choice of whether or not to pass the legislation to protect our democracy,” Schumer said in a statement announcing the plan.
Several political commentators on social media said that Sinema would be responsible if Democrats fail to pass voting rights legislation.
“Sinema is speaking on the Senate floor and, get this, criticizing GOP state legislatures for restricting voting rights,” MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan said. “But… what is she going to do about it at the federal level? Many of us wait with baited breath.”
“Sinema is effectively asking the authors of Jim Crow and vote-rigging to give their permission for her to stop it,” said Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post opinion columnist. “This is worse than incoherent or cowardice. It’s a moral disgrace.”
Rubin continued by speculating whether Sinema would “ask the segregationists for permission to vote for [the 1964] Civil Rights Act,” were she voting on the bill decades ago.
That law was passed at a time when a “talking filibuster” rule was in place, rather than the current form of the filibuster, which doesn’t require lawmakers to speak nonstop. Reenacting the talking filibuster is one of the reform options currently being considered by Democrats.
Some observers also rejected Sinema’s insistence that she was protecting the filibuster out of respect for bipartisanship.
“Sinema is saying that the filibuster simply ensures that lawmakers bring legislation that is broadly supported by the American people,” said HuffPost Washington Bureau Chief Amanda Terkel. “That’s just not true. Plenty of legislation has wide public support. But it still doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Ultimately, Sinema’s speech isn’t an exercise of bipartisanship. It’s one that serves to protect power that Democrats and Republicans alike enjoy,” wrote Jalil Smith, a senior correspondent for Vox. “Proclamations of support for voting rights from any Senator unwilling to eliminate the filibuster are just scenery for the gullible.”