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Setback for Democracy: Manchin & Sinema Join Senate Republicans to Block Voting Rights Legislation

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As President Biden marked one year in office this week, conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joined with Republican senators to block a proposed change to filibuster rules that would have allowed two voting rights bills to move forward, foreclosing the chance to stop hundreds of anti-voting laws passed after the 2020 election. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders blasted his colleagues for opposing the rules change, and Georgia’s Raphael Warnock likened the fight for voting rights to the civil rights movement. We air excerpts from their speeches.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

As President Biden marked one year in office with a rare marathon news conference at the White House Wednesday, his former colleagues in the Senate spent hours debating a proposed change to the filibuster that would allow the voting rights measure to move forward with a simple majority. But for the fifth time this session, Republicans filibustered voting rights again. Right-wing Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joined with Republicans to defeat the change. Manchin delivered his Senate floor speech while Biden held his news conference — the dueling Joes. After the vote, Senate Republicans gathered in the chamber to shake Senator Sinema’s hand.

Progressive Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders said Tuesday he would support primary challengers to Manchin and Sinema. Senator Sanders spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Is changing the Senate rules a radical idea? Oh my god! First time in history we’re about to do it! Never been done before! Oh, well, really, not quite, no. As every member of the Senate knows, the rules get changed on a fairly regular basis. Nothing radical about it.

Just a few months ago, in order to raise the debt ceiling and prevent our government from defaulting on its loans, the rules were changed so that a 50-vote majority would prevail. We changed the rules, appropriately, and we prevented a default and a massive worldwide depression.

Just a few years ago, my Republican colleagues, who are so adamantly against changing rules, well, my goodness, they changed the Senate rules to allow 50 votes to confirm the president’s nominees to the Supreme Court. Oh my goodness, how shocking. And they got three conservative Supreme Court justices as a result.

Rules get changed around here all of the time. And maybe, just maybe, we might want to change the rules in order to save American democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders speaking Wednesday during the debate to change filibuster rules in order to pass key voting rights legislation. Some Democrats compared GOP-led voter suppression efforts to racial discrimination under Jim Crow. This is Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, one of the three African Americans in the Senate. His speech closed out the pleas from Democrats.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Those of us who were students of Dr. King — I know I have — often wonder: What would I have done if I were alive during the civil rights movement? I know we would all like to think that we, too, would have had just a small fraction, just a fraction, of the courage that it took for John Lewis to cross that Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Well, for those of us who are fortunate enough to serve in the United States Senate in this moment, in this moral moment, we do not have to wonder. My god, he faced troopers on the other side, crossing that bridge. We’re talking about a procedural bridge. We don’t have to wonder what we would have done. I submit that what we would have done back then, we are doing right now.

History is watching us. Our children are counting on us. And I hope that we will have the courage to do what is right for our communities and for our country, the courage to cross this bridge, to do the hard work in this defining moral moment in America for the sake of the communities that sent us here in the first place, for the sake of the planet, for the sake of healthcare, for the sake of jobs, for the sake of being able to argue for the things that we care about, the courage to fight for one another. I’m still praying that we will cross that bridge. But if not tonight, we will come back again and again and again.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Georgia Democratic Senator the Reverend Raphael Warnock, speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday during a debate that unfolded as President Biden held a two-hour news conference marking his first year in office.

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