Sinema Lambasted for Claiming Filibuster 'Protects' Democracy as It's Used to Block Voting Rights Bill

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona came under fire Wednesday for defending the legislative filibuster as essential to preserving U.S. democracy amid growing calls to eliminate the archaic 60-vote rule, which remains a major obstacle in the way of voting rights legislation and other key priorities.

While touring Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in Tucson alongside Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Sinema told reporters that the filibuster "protects the democracy of our nation" and that a change of behavior—not a change of rules—is needed to end Senate dysfunction.

"The reality is that when you have a system that is not working effectively... the way to fix that is to change your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules," said Sinema, who has repeatedly joined Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in defending the filibuster from progressive lawmakers who have characterized it as a "Jim Crow relic" that must be abolished.

Adam Jentleson, executive director of the Battle Born Collective and a former Senate aide, said in response to Sinema that focusing on individual behavior to remedy systemic problems is "literally the opposite of what you do."

"When you have a system that is not working effectively, you fix the system," Jentleson added.

In a statement, Eli Zupnick of Fix Our Senate said that Sinema "is simply wrong about the history of the filibuster," which was repeatedly deployed by segregationists to obstruct and tank civil rights legislation.

"Its current abuse by Senator McConnell has turned the Senate into a cesspool of partisanship, gridlock, and dysfunction," said Zupnick. "The fact that a bipartisan bill to form a bipartisan commission investigating an attack on Congress was blocked by a filibuster is a perfect demonstration of why the filibuster needs to be eliminated to fix the broken Senate."

"Changing the behavior of the entire Republican caucus—or even just 10 members—is a pipe dream," Zupnick added. "The only way Democrats can pass any meaningful legislation to protect voters and our democracy is to eliminate the filibuster."

The Arizona Democrat's latest defense of the filibuster came just weeks before the Senate is expected to vote on the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill that stands virtually no chance of passage with the filibuster in place.

Breaking a legislative filibuster requires 60 votes, meaning every Senate Democrat and at least 10 Republicans would have to agree to proceed to a final vote on the bill—but the GOP is unanimously opposed to the measure and Manchin has refused to sign on as a co-sponsor.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that "as Republican efforts to clamp down on voting prevail across the country, the drive to enact the most sweeping elections overhaul in generations is faltering in the Senate."

"Democrats are struggling to unite around a strategy to overcome solid Republican opposition and an almost certain filibuster," the Times continued. "Republicans in Congress have dug in against the measure, with even the most moderate dismissing it as bloated and overly prescriptive. That leaves Democrats no option for passing it other than to try to force the bill through by destroying the filibuster rule."

Eliminating or altering the filibuster requires just a simple-majority vote, but Sinema said Wednesday that she will not change her position on the rule. Manchin, for his part, declared in a recent Washington Post op-ed that "there is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster."

"It's completely insane that some Dems (ahem Manchin/Sinema) would rather keep the Jim Crow filibuster than stop an avalanche of Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression laws," tweeted Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, passage of the For the People Act would "thwart virtually every single one" of the hundreds of voter suppression bills Republicans have introduced in states across the U.S. in recent months.

"Amidst a withering attack on voting rights in nearly every state," the group said in March, "the Senate must now get to work and pass this bill into law."

Democratic lawmakers in Texas—which already has some of the most restrictive election laws in the nation—added their voices to the chorus demanding swift passage of the For the People Act this week after they walked out of the state House chamber to block a voter suppression bill that the ACLU described as "one of the ugliest" in the nation.

Following Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's vow to revive the bill in a special session, Texas Democrats implored Congress to strengthen voting rights at the national level to neutralize GOP attacks on the franchise.

"We can't control what Republicans do, we can't control what the governor does, we can only control what we do and how we respond," Texas state Rep. Chris Turner (D-101), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told The Guardian. "We need federal help to stop these voter suppression efforts."

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