The bill was seen by Democrats as one of their highest priorities -- a pushback against scores of ballot suppression bills by Republican-led state legislatures that threaten their ability to win future power, built on Donald Trump's vote fraud lies.
It's the kind of scenario that calls for the vote-moving muscle of a first-term president at the apex of his power. But in the bleak political math of contemporary Washington, such a jolt of energy from the commander in chief didn't materialize. And it wouldn't have mattered if it did. Republicans crushed the effort at the first attempt, wielding the Senate's filibuster rules -- which require a 60-vote majority to advance the bill -- to stop legislation with existential implications for the US democratic system, before it could even be debated.
The vote on Tuesday was the most tangible illustration yet of how having such a minuscule congressional majority will thwart liberal dreams of a presidency chock full of radical change, and how President Joe Biden's power in such a scenario is clipped. The fact that Biden wasn't leading the charge in such a critical fight reveals everything about the stark realities of power that define Washington in mid-2021 and offers insights into how he sees his presidency.
Instead of taking on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Republicans, who showed the capacity to throttle Biden's legislative plans at any time, the President decided to prioritize other goals, like a bipartisan infrastructure deal and other policy aims he views as closer to the American people. It's a gamble that puts him in the position of needing a big win on infrastructure to justify his decisions.
The events on Tuesday will add to the growing angst of progressives increasingly frustrated that Biden isn't doing more for their cause. Despite the fury on the left, moderate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona showed they were no closer to voting to abolish the filibuster. And a day of political theater also showed how in tightly divided Washington, it's often only those whose goal is to achieve nothing -- in this case, the GOP -- that get what they want.
'The fight is not over'
It's not that Biden doesn't want sweeping voting revisions to pass. He has slammed Republican election bills in the state legislatures that he argues discriminate against Black voters, calling them tantamount to the repression of the Jim Crow era. And GOP state legislation may damage Democratic hopes in 2022 and 2024...