After GOP minority in the Senate blocks voting rights bill, Sinema suffers exodus of supporters

Sinema has repeatedly refused to eliminate the filibuster, clearing the way for a pattern of GOP obstructionism

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published October 21, 2021 2:54PM (EDT)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona (Getty Images)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona (Getty Images)

Five Democrats set to advise Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., resigned from their positions on Thursday, accusing the Arizona centrist of putting "big donors" over her "own people."

In a pointed missive obtained by The New York Times, the military veterans ripped Sinema for "hanging [her] constituents out to dry" by opposing large parts of President Biden's landmark infrastructure bill and refusing to dismantle the filibuster, which on Wednesday would have allowed a sweeping voting rights overhaul to be passed in the Senate. 

"Senator Sinema is now complicit in the Republican campaign to destroy the right to vote in America," echoed The Primary Sinema Project in a statement on Wednesday. "As today's vote made very clear, the filibuster is the only thing blocking the Freedom to Vote Act from becoming law. Democrats have the votes needed to pass this bill and counter the attack on voting rights, but Sinema continues to stand in the way."

This week, Republicans brought a sweeping Democratic-backed voting measure – known as the "Freedom to Vote Act" – to a screeching halt when the GOP caucus filibustered the bill, already a watered-down version of a more robust overhaul passed by the House back in March. The impetus for that March bill came largely in response to the GOP-backed restrictive voting measures passed in states like Texas and Georgia, which Democrats have decried for their potential to suppress minorities voters.

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According to The Washington Post, The Freedom to Vote Act includes "national standards for early voting and vote-by-mail, new disclosure requirements for 'dark money' groups and the establishment of Election Day as a federal holiday." It also mandates that redistricting be decided by a nonpartisan committee, heightens ethics requirements for federal officeholders, and establishes a federal financing system for congressional elections.

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Democrats fell exactly nine votes short of the count needed to avert a filibuster on the voting measure, a steep obstacle that has led many activists – and some more progressive members of congress – to make demands for amending or outright scrapping the Senate rules. Much of this ire has been directed at Sinema and her moderate counterpart, Sen. Joe Manchin, R-W.Va., both of whom have expressed a strong interest in preserving the filibuster as is.

Many critics of the filibuster have called out its potential to ensure minoritarian rule. 

"A majority of the Senate supports [The Freedom to Vote Act]," explained Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, in a statement. "The House has passed a companion bill. The president will sign it. Only Republican obstruction and a broken Senate process prevents this from becoming law."

In recent months, mainstream Democrats have significantly eased their positions on the filibuster, acknowledging its extreme weaponization by Republicans. 

"I've concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule," Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said this week. 

Still, CNN reports that President Biden, who has touted the measure, is not committed to changing the rules around the filibuster, instead opting to "step up the public-facing part of [his] campaign" for expanded voting rights. 

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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