Democrats Fail to Alter Filibuster as G.O.P. Blocks Voting Rights Bill

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:44 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:44 p.m. ET

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats made an impassioned case on Wednesday for legislation to counter an onslaught of new voting restrictions around the country, but they failed to overcome a Republican blockade or unite their own members behind a change in filibuster rules to pass it.

Though the twin defeats were never in doubt, Democrats pushed forward in an effort to highlight what they called a crisis in voting rights and to underscore the refusal of Republicans to confront it. They did succeed in forcing the Senate for the first time to debate the bill, leading to hours of raw and emotional arguments on the floor over civil rights, racism and how elections are conducted.

“The people of this country will not tolerate silencing,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and a chief author of the voting bill. “I think by voting this down, by not allowing us even to debate this, to get to the conclusion of a vote, that is silencing the people of America, all in the name of an archaic Senate rule that isn’t even in the Constitution. That’s just wrong.”

After Republicans stymied action on the legislation on Wednesday night, Democrats made a last-ditch bid to alter the Senate’s filibuster rules and allow the voting rights measure to move forward with a simple majority. But that effort also fell flat because they lacked the support in their own ranks to change the rules.

“This party-line push has never been about securing citizens’ rights,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader. “It’s about expanding politicians’ power.”

The back-to-back losses amounted to a major setback for President Biden, who used a White House news conference during the Senate debate to lament Republicans’ success at thwarting his domestic agenda, including the voting rights measure. And it was a disheartening moment for Senate Democrats, who put the full force of their majority behind the issue despite the long odds of success.

Republicans aggressively fought both the voting measure and the attempt to weaken the filibuster. They accused Democrats of manufacturing a crisis by exaggerating the impact of new state laws in an effort to realize a longstanding goal of gaining more control over state elections — and risking the uniqueness of the Senate to do so.

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

In a day of sharp exchanges, one of the most dramatic was between two of the Senate’s three Black members, who clashed over charges by Democrats that the Republicans’ opposition to the legislation was a throwback to the Jim Crow days of denying Black Americans the vote.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, a conservative Republican raised by a single mother who worked 16-hour days as a nurse’s aide, hotly rejected the comparison. He noted that in the Jim Crow South, African Americans could be lynched, lose their jobs or be subjected to literacy tests if they dared to vote — a far cry from today.

“As a person who was born in 1965, with a mama who understands racism, discrimination and separate and not equal, the grandfather who I took to vote and helped him cast his vote because he was unable to read, to have a conversation in a narrative that is blatantly false is offensive,” Mr. Scott said. “Not just to me or Southern Americans, but offensive to millions of Americans who fought, bled and died for the right to vote.”

That prompted an emotional comeback from Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a liberal Democrat and the Ivy League-educated son of parents who were among the first Black executives at IBM. Mr. Booker insisted that the racial discrimination of the past persisted today.

“Don’t lecture me about Jim Crow,” Mr. Booker said, his voice rising. “I know this is not 1965. And that’s what makes me so outraged. It is 2022 and they are blatantly removing more polling places from the counties where Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented.”

Even as they stared down a setback, Democrats predicted that Americans would ultimately rally to their side when they realized that extensive efforts were underway by Republicans in states around the nation to make it more difficult for some people, particularly people of color, to vote after Democrats won the White House and Congress in 2020.

“Nothing less than the very future of our democracy is at stake, and we must act or risk losing what so many Americans have fought for — and have died for — for nearly 250 years,” said Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan.

At issue was legislation that combined two bills that Republicans had previously blocked four times with a filibuster, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

The legislation would establish nationwide standards for ballot access that aim to nullify new restrictions Republicans have imposed in states around the country following the 2020 elections. Among them are a minimum of 15 consecutive days of early voting and a requirement that all voters be able to request to vote by mail. The measure would also establish new automatic voter registration programs and make Election Day a national holiday.

And it would restore elements of the landmark Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions, including a requirement that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination have voting changes approved by the Justice Department or federal courts before they can be put in place.

The debate on the Senate floor, which is usually empty, was a throwback to an earlier time. Dozens of Democrats sat rapt at their desks throughout the morning and afternoon, remaining after their own speeches to take in those of their colleagues. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus from the House sat in a corner of the chamber, observing the debate on legislation they had helped steer to passage on the other side of the Capitol.

Later, as the Senate voted on whether to allow the bill to move forward, members of both parties were seated at their desks and rose in turn to register their positions, with Vice President Kamala Harris presiding from the dais — customs normally reserved for special occasions.

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

During the floor debate, Republicans did not shy away from the argument, alternating with Democrats as the two sides clashed over the impact of scores of new voting restrictions being imposed around the country, the nature of the Senate and how far the rights of the minority should extend to thwart the majority. Though the outcome was set, dozens of lawmakers engaged in a robust exchange of views.

Republicans bristled at suggestions that they were engaging in a contemporary version of endorsing Jim Crow-like laws, a comparison made by Mr. Biden and other Democrats.

“I am not a racist,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican. “Nor are the people who I know in the state of South Dakota.”

The debate, which stretched for more than 10 hours, well beyond its scheduled close, was illustrative of the “talking filibuster” Democrats said they wanted to revive, forcing lawmakers to take the floor and expound before heading toward a final vote. In recent decades, lawmakers have needed only to lodge their objections to stop legislation in its tracks unless its backers can round up 60 votes in favor.

Though all 50 Democrats supported the voting rights bill, all 50 Republicans held together in opposition, leaving Democrats 10 votes short of the 60 needed to break the filibuster. The final vote was 51 to 49, with Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, voting with opponents in a maneuver aimed at allowing the measure to be reconsidered later.

Democrats also fell short of the votes needed to unilaterally change Senate rules to override the blockade and allow the voting rights measure to pass with just 51 votes rather than 60. All Republicans opposed changing the rules, as did two Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The effort to change the rules was defeated 52 to 48.

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Earlier, Mr. Manchin, who spoke on the Senate floor as Mr. Biden held forth at the White House, said he wholeheartedly supported the voting rights legislation, which he helped shape. But he said he would not support changing the Senate’s rules to enact the bill and would oppose any change imposed by Democrats on a partisan basis.

“We’ll make up new rules as we go along, invite ourselves and future majorities to disregard the rule book at will,” Mr. Manchin said. “Let this change happen this way and the Senate will be a body without rules.”

Republicans were also firm in their opposition, saying it was the Democratic Party that was seeking partisan gain.

Mr. McConnell led his colleagues in assailing Democrats, noting that many of them had defended the filibuster vociferously in the past and calling the procedural weapon the “indispensable feature of our institution.”

“It makes the Senate serve its founding purpose: forging compromise, cooling passions and ensuring that new laws earn broad support from a cross-section of our country,” Mr. McConnell said.

Other Republicans noted that states represented by Democrats had stiffer voting requirements than those Democrats were attacking as infringements on the right to vote. And they said that Democrats were trying to distract from other domestic problems and the struggles of the Biden administration by staging an unnecessary voting rights fight.

“Democrats apparently want people to forget about the fact that they can’t keep their refrigerators or pantries stocked or their kids are out of school because of the pandemic,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, invoked Mr. Lewis, the former congressman who was badly beaten in a civil rights march in Selma in 1965 and who died in 2020, in urging approval of the legislation to secure the ability to vote.

“Surely we in the Senate can muster a shred of his courage to protect that right,” Mr. Menendez said. “There are no other rights without the right to vote.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:34 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:34 p.m. ET

Carl Hulse

The effort to change filibuster rules is defeated 52-48 and the Senate packs it in for the night after an emotional and exhausting day.

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:22 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:22 p.m. ET

Luke Broadwater

Here we go. The vote the change the Senate legislative filibuster rule is called.

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:14 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:14 p.m. ET

Catie Edmondson

“The Senate will be saved tonight,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader says, presaging what we all have known since the day began twelve hours ago: that this attempt to alter the filibuster will fail.

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:00 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:00 p.m. ET

Luke Broadwater

Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Jeff Merkley just finished debating the finer points of how to define a “talking filibuster,” which both men have said they support instead of the current so-called silent filibuster, which allows a minority party to block a bill without coming to the floor to debate. Many Democrats hoped they could use a proposal for a “talking filibuster” to get Mr. Manchin to drop his opposition to filibuster changes. But Mr. Manchin seemed dissatisfied with the way the proposed rule change was written and said it would not sufficiently allow for amendments during debate.

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Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:58 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:58 p.m. ET

Catie Edmondson

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, is now listing all the various G.O.P. bills Democrats have filibustered in recent years, casting the procedural tool as a boon to whoever is in the minority — whether it be Republicans or Democrats.

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:41 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:41 p.m. ET

Luke Broadwater

Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, who is speaking now, has spent weeks preparing a PowerPoint presentation on the history of the Senate filibuster with recommendations for changes that he has circulated to his colleagues. It quotes the Federalist Papers, including this from Alexander Hamilton: “If two-thirds of the whole number of members had been required, it would … amount in practice to a necessity of unanimity. And the history of every political establishment in which this principle has prevailed, is a history of impotence, perplexity and disorder.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:20 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:20 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Vice President Kamala Harris said that she made a point of overseeing the vote to make a statement. “The president and I are not going to give up on this issue. This is fundamental to our democracy.”

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:13 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:13 p.m. ET

Catie Edmondson

Senator Angus King, Independent of Maine, resurrects what has become a frequent complaint by Democrats. The current filibuster allows senators in the minority to block legislation with virtually no effort, Mr. King said. “All it is, is a dial-in, no work filibuster.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:08 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:08 p.m. ET

Carl Hulse

Here is what Democrats are proposing through their rules change: Each senator would be allowed to speak twice for as long as they wish only on final passage of the legislation. After each senator has exhausted their right to speak, the Senate would move to a simple majority vote on final passage.

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:59 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:59 p.m. ET

Carl Hulse

The Senate tied on the voting rights bill as expected though Senator Schumer changed his vote to no for procedural reasons. Officially the vote was 51-49 against cloture, 11 short of 60 needed. Now comes the rules fight.

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:54 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:54 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are also on the floor to watch the vote. As Carl said, the chamber is unusually full for a session during the pandemic.

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:52 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:52 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia are huddling on the Senate floor. Ms. Sinema is a holdout against changing the Senate rules, a step Mr. Warnock supports.

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Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:47 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:47 p.m. ET

Carl Hulse

This vote is proceeding more quickly than most have in the pandemic-slowed Senate.

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:46 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:46 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Most senators are voting from their desks which, again, is an unusual visual these days — most of the time they’re dashing in and out.

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:39 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:39 p.m. ET

Carl Hulse

Senate now voting on its voting rights package. After Republicans refuse to cut off debate, Senator Chuck Schumer will then try to change the Senate rules. More to come on Capitol Hill tonight.

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:24 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:24 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

We expect two more speakers before this vote, which has been repeatedly been pushed back as speeches and actual debate have gone on. Lots of pizza and takeout being carried through the building.

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:12 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:12 p.m. ET

Carl Hulse

Senator Raphael Warnock, whose seat in Georgia could be at risk from voting restrictions, closes the debate. “History is watching us,” he said.

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:05 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:05 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, tells a couple of us that after the votes tonight, he expects conversations to resume about changes to the Electoral Count Act and other more modest reforms.

“If just one party writes it, it will be rejected,” he said. “That’s how the Senate works. You have to have things that are appealing to both parties.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:04 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 8:04 p.m. ET

Catie Edmondson

Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, whose victory in 2020 helped Democrats win control of the Senate, says he runs into constituents “all the time that they waited hours in line to vote for me,” including one woman who waited eight hours in line in the rain. Another student admitted to him that she did not vote, because she didn’t want to skip class to stand in line for hours. Some want to pretend that “voters like these Georgians don’t exist,” Mr. Warnock said.

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:57 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:57 p.m. ET

Carl Hulse

In the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris has arrived and is presiding over the chamber for the upcoming vote on the voting rights bills. Though the vote is expected to end in a 50-50 tie, her vote will not matter since the threshold for breaking the filibuster is 60.

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:52 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:52 p.m. ET

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Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

With their drive to secure far-reaching voting rights legislation nearing a dead end, Senate Democrats face a decision they had hoped to avoid: Should they embrace a much narrower, bipartisan effort to safeguard the vote-counting process, or continue what increasingly looks like a doomed push to protect access to the ballot box?

A growing group of Senate Republicans and centrist Democrats is working on legislation to overhaul the Electoral Count Act, the 19th-century law that former President Donald J. Trump sought to exploit to overturn the 2020 presidential election. That effort is expanding to include other measures aimed at preventing interference in election administration, such as barring the removal of nonpartisan election officials without cause and creating federal penalties for the harassment or intimidation of election officials.

Democratic leaders say they regard the effort as a trap — or at least a diversion from the central issue of voter suppression that their legislation aims to address. They argue that the narrower measures are woefully inadequate given that Republicans have enacted a wave of voting restrictions in states around the country that are geared toward disenfranchising Democratic voters, particularly people of color.

Still, even if there is no consensus to be found on a bill addressing how votes are cast, proponents say there is a growing sentiment in favor of ensuring that those that are cast are fairly counted.

“There is a lot of interest, a lot of interest,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who is leading one effort with Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, both centrist Democrats, and Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Joni Ernst of Iowa, all Republicans.

A separate group — including two Democratic senators, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Senator Angus King, a left-of-center independent from Maine — is looking at changing how Congress formalizes the election results to head off another attempt like the one Mr. Trump made to have allies on Capitol Hill try to toss out state electoral votes.

But most Democrats are reluctant even to discuss the matter until after the more comprehensive voting rights bill they call the Freedom to Vote Act is put to rest, a near certainty after Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin said this week that they would not vote to change Senate rules on the filibuster to enable their party to push it through unilaterally.

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:47 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:47 p.m. ET

Zolan Kanno-Youngs

Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to not only preside over the debate for The Freedom to Vote Act but the vote itself, according to a White House official. The White House knows well this vote will not pass but for Ms. Harris, who the administration put in charge of efforts to protect the right to vote, it is a chance to show a sense of urgency in the face of criticism from advocates that the White House has not prioritized the issue.

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:43 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:43 p.m. ET

Catie Edmondson

Senator Jon Ossoff, Democrat of Georgia, recounted how President Trump tried to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state not to certify President Biden’s electoral victory. It’s hard to overstate how heavily the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and the election lies that fueled it, have hung over the debate today for Democrats.

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Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:36 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:36 p.m. ET

Catie Edmondson

Senator Sanders hammers into Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema for supporting the voting rights legislation but not supporting the rule change needed to pass it. “Why are you wasting everybody’s time?” Mr. Sanders said. “It’s like inviting somebody to lunch, putting out a great spread, and saying, ‘You can’t eat.’”

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:35 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:35 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Vice President Kamala Harris has arrived on Capitol Hill.

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:23 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 7:23 p.m. ET

Catie Edmondson

“I will be brief because there is not a whole lot I can add to the excellent statements my colleagues have made,” Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, says as senators roll into their tenth hour of debate.

Jan. 19, 2022, 6:00 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 6:00 p.m. ET

Jonathan Weisman

This rare debate started when Senator Cotton taunted the Democrats arrayed on the other side of the chamber, asking if any of them cared to defend a letter they had signed in 2017, urging the Senate to preserve “extended debate.” As he prepared to move on, his opponents engaged. First, Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who once taught politics at Bowdoin College, took Cotton to task. Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, jumped in, then Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, and then Senator Hassan.

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Jan. 19, 2022, 6:00 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 6:00 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Senator Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat up for re-election this year, was not scheduled to speak but jumped in after the debate with Senator Tom Cotton. These are rare unscripted comments, particularly for someone facing a tough race. She says that if Republicans and Democrats aren’t united to preserve democracy, the rules of the Senate don’t matter.

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Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:55 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:55 p.m. ET

Katie Rogers

The president ends his news conference after an hour and 52 minutes.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:51 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:51 p.m. ET

Katie Rogers

“The American public are trying to sift their way through what’s real and what’s fake,” the president says, before talking about a decline in cable news viewership and a rise in misinformation. It’s interesting to think about how Biden’s first year might have been different had he been more forceful about combating the misinformation he seems so unhappy about.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:46 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:46 p.m. ET

Katie Rogers

The president says Republicans during the Obama era were “not nearly as obstructionist” as they are now. “We were able to work through some things,” he said. “What would be the Republican platform right now? What do you think?”

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:46 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:46 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

On Capitol Hill, Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and a series of Democratic senators are sparring over possible changes to the filibuster and Mr. Cotton’s charge that Democrats have changed their minds about doing so. A legitimate, unscripted back-and-forth is rare in the Senate these days, with senators accustomed to speaking to a virtually empty chamber.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:41 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:41 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Biden just acknowledged that an extension of payments to most families with children — the expanded child tax credit, a key part of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan that expired in December — may not make it into his domestic policy plan. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has expressed concerns with that provision, even as most other Democrats have sought to make it permanent.

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Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:38 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:38 p.m. ET

Katie Rogers

And now, a question to the president on behalf of the parents of young children everywhere: When is a coronavirus vaccine coming for children under 5? The president offers little beyond what he’s said before: when the science gets there.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:33 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:33 p.m. ET

Emily Cochrane

Meanwhile, the Senate is still debating voting rights legislation and a change to the filibuster rules. Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has interrupted Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, to counter a point he’s making — a glimmer of a real, actual debate.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:30 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:30 p.m. ET

Katie Rogers

A reporter with the right-wing website Newsmax asks the president why polling indicates that some people think he is mentally unfit to run the country. “I have no idea,” the president responds.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:29 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:29 p.m. ET

Zolan Kanno-Youngs

Biden asks reporters how long they would like the news conference to go. It’s worth noting that his administration has been criticized by press advocates for not having enough news conferences, and instead relying on gaggles after his prepared remarks.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:26 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:26 p.m. ET

Glenn Thrush

Biden’s biggest weakness — in the view of his political advisers for decades, and in his own acknowledgment — is a tendency to ramble and digress. He has now answered three extended questions from reporters after he had intended to leave. “We’ve only gone an hour and 20 minutes,” he says.

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:23 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:23 p.m. ET

Katie Rogers

After a little bit of back and forth with Peter Doocy of Fox News, the president disagrees with the premise of Doocy’s question: that he is trying to pull the country too far left. “I’m not Bernie Sanders,” he says. “I’m not a socialist. I’m a mainstream Democrat and I have been.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:22 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 5:22 p.m. ET

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Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

President Biden said that his administration’s planned spending on roads, bridges, ports and airports would ease supply chain bottlenecks that have helped fuel inflation and forced Americans to pay more for a wide variety of products.

The president said that the job of ensuring that rising prices do not become entrenched rests with the Federal Reserve, but that his administration had a three-part plan to help combat rising prices, including rebuilding American infrastructure, lowering the cost of child care and promoting more competition among companies.

“The best thing to tackle high prices is a more productive economy with greater capacity to deliver goods and services to the American people,” Mr. Biden said.

“Inflation has everything to do with the supply chain,” he added.

He argued that his administration had made progress on speeding the movement of goods through the supply chain, adding that efforts like making America more self-reliant in producing scarce computer chips that have limited automobile production and led to soaring car prices could make a big difference in lowering Americans’ cost of living.

But he also claimed that, notwithstanding recent winter storms that had impacted much of the country, American shelves were well-stocked, and that often-predicted shortages of gifts during the holidays had not materialized.

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House announced that it would invest more than $14 billion from the infrastructure law and other appropriations in over 500 domestic infrastructure projects, including a $1.1 billion investment to revitalize the Everglades, a project to expand capacity at the Port of Long Beach and commitments to protect underserved coastal communities from extreme weather.

More than $4 billion of that would come from funding given to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would be directed to expanding capacity at key ports, including $858 million going to replacing locks in the upper Ohio River.

The White House said $8 million would go to the Port of Long Beach in California, to allow larger ships to pass through the port, and another $69 million would go to improving navigation and expanding capacity at Norfolk Harbor, Va.

Jan. 19, 2022, 4:50 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 4:50 p.m. ET

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transcript

transcript

Senator Scott Criticizes Comparing Voting Restrictions to Jim Crow

Senators Tim Scott and Cory Booker clashed over calling Republican-backed voting legislation “Jim Crow 2.0.”

“As I keep hearing the references to Jim Crow, I ask myself how many Americans understand what Jim Crow was. So when I hear my president and your president, our president of these United States just a little while ago, a weekend or so ago, talk about Jim Crow 2.0 and using as the poster child of this new Jim Crow South being the Georgia voting law. I rushed to read the law one more time so that I could understand what in the world is he talking about?” “Don’t lecture me about Jim Crow. I know this is not 1965. That’s what makes me so outraged. It’s 2022, and they’re blatantly removing more polling places from the counties where Black and Latinos are overrepresented. I’m not making that up, that is a fact.”

Senators Tim Scott and Cory Booker clashed over calling Republican-backed voting legislation “Jim Crow 2.0.”CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Senators Tim Scott and Cory Booker, two of only three Black people serving in the Senate, had a heated exchange over whether it was appropriate to liken modern voting restrictions to Jim Crow.

Mr. Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, spoke first, excoriating President Biden for calling new Republican-backed laws “Jim Crow 2.0.”

“I ask myself how many Americans understand what Jim Crow was,” he said, mentioning literacy tests, intimidation and the threat of lynching, and calling the comparisons “offensive to millions of Americans who fought, bled and died for the right to vote.”

Mr. Scott accused Democrats of misrepresenting provisions of Georgia’s new voting law and recounted his own electoral history (he was elected to the House after winning a Republican primary against the son of the segregationist Strom Thurmond). He also noted that two of the three sitting Black senators — himself and Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia — represented Southern states.

“It’s hard to deny progress,” Mr. Scott said, when “two out of the three come from the Southern states that people say are the places where African American votes are being suppressed. Not to mention the fact that 2020 was a banner year for minority participation.”

Mr. Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, took the floor next with audible anger.

“In the United States today, it is more difficult for the average African American to vote than the average white American. That is not rhetoric, that is fact,” he said, adding, “Don’t lie and say there’s not a disparate voting reality for Blacks and whites in this country right now. The facts speak differently.”

He cited a litany of statistics, including that Black voters on average wait in voting lines twice as long as white voters, and that most of the polling sites that Texas has closed since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 have been in counties with the fastest-growing Black and Latino populations.

“Don’t lecture me about Jim Crow,” Mr. Booker said. “I know this is not 1965. That’s what makes me so outraged. It’s 2022 and they’re blatantly removing more polling places from the counties where Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 4:32 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 4:32 p.m. ET

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Biden vowed on Wednesday to pursue a scaled-back version of his marquee domestic policy plan as he mounted a two-hour defense of his first-year accomplishments and repeatedly blamed Republicans for abandoning any serious attempt to govern the country.

In an expansive news conference in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Biden refused to accept criticism of how his administration has handled the coronavirus pandemic, saying that “we’ve done remarkably well.” And he rejected accusations that he called lawmakers who opposed voting rights legislation racists in a fiery speech last week.

Acknowledging that his $2.2 trillion social spending legislation will not pass the Senate in one piece, Mr. Biden said he would try to pass individual parts of the bigger bill in the Senate, where they might get more bipartisan support. He said he was confident that provisions on energy and the environment would get enough support to pass.

Mr. Biden specifically noted that there was too much opposition among Democrats and Republicans to two of his key agenda items, which were central to the pledges he made on the campaign trail in 2020: an extension of the child tax credit and free community college for all Americans.

He was pessimistic about voting rights, acknowledging the looming failure of legislation in the Senate. “It’s going to be difficult. I make no bones about that,” the president said, hours before Democrats’ latest attempt to pass a voting rights bill was blocked. But he added, “We’ve not run out of options yet.”

He expressed more optimism that some of his spending agenda might still be adopted.

“I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest later,” Mr. Biden said. He noted that provisions on climate change and universal prekindergarten, and proposals to finance new spending might get enough support to pass.

The president said he hoped to find common ground with two Democratic senators who have resisted the legislation. In particular, he said that one of those holdouts, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, “strongly supports early education, 3 and 4 years of age, strongly supports that.”

He repeatedly laced into congressional Republicans, whom he accused of having no positive agenda and of conspiring to block everything that Mr. Biden has tried to do.

“I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” he said.

“What are Republicans for?” he asked in response to a question about his stalled agenda. “What are they for? Name me one thing that they are for.”

Referring to Donald J. Trump, Mr. Biden asked: “Did you ever think that one man out of office could intimidate an entire party?”

He said five Republican senators had privately told him that they agreed with him on various issues, only to say they would lose in the primaries if they went public. The president declined to say who the five were.

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Mr. Biden accused Republicans of refusing to get “in the game” on governing the country and said the party was to blame for his inability to unify the country — as he promised — because the G.O.P. was far more unwilling to compromise than it had been in previous years.

“They weren’t nearly as obstructionist as they are now,” Mr. Biden said. He added: “I wonder what would be the Republican platform right now. What do you think? What do you think is their position on taxes? What do you think is their position on human rights?”

Mr. Biden faced reporters in a formal news conference for only the second time in his presidency and less than a day before the first anniversary of his inauguration amid a stalled agenda and sagging approval ratings.

He was animated throughout the news conference, taking numerous questions and sparring with reporters for almost two hours. He ignored one question about his son’s connections to China, and largely dismissed another on concerns about his mental fitness.

He also gave a grim assessment of the likelihood that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would soon send forces into Ukraine.

For most of the two hours, Mr. Biden defended his record, noting record low unemployment, passage of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill, millions of Americans getting vaccinated and his negotiation of a bipartisan bill to invest $1 trillion in the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes and broadband.

But the president said he still intended to take a new approach in the year ahead, promising to get out of Washington more often and pledging significant help for Democratic candidates as the party fights to retain control of Congress in the midterm elections in November.

“We’re going to be raising a lot of money. We’re going to be out there making sure that we’re helping all those candidates,” Mr. Biden said, promising to “go out and make the case in plain, simple language as to what it is we’ve done, what we want to do and why we think it’s important.”

In response to a question, Mr. Biden also said that he intended to run for a second term and that Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate.

Mr. Biden also said he had grown tired of being drawn into endless negotiations with members of his own party during the past six months. He said his drop in popularity was partly the result of Americans seeing him acting more like a lawmaker and less like a commander in chief.

“The public doesn’t want me to be the president-senator,” he said. “They want me to be the president, and let senators be senators.”

Mr. Biden has faced a series of challenges since the summer, including a monthslong battle with the two Democratic senators over his far-reaching social spending legislation, and the inability to pass voting rights protections he describes as crucial to the fate of democracy in the country. He also oversaw a rushed and chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

The president has not yet succeeded in meeting his own goals for combating climate change. And while he has reversed some of Mr. Trump’s harsh immigration policies, he has not yet delivered on his broader promise for a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans.

And on the central promise he made during the 2020 campaign — to “shut down” the pandemic that has upended school, work and social life in the country for two years — Mr. Biden has struggled to respond to the coronavirus variants that have killed more than 250,000 Americans since the summer.

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Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

The president defended his response to the pandemic, saying that his administration had succeeded in vaccinating nearly 75 percent of all adults. Mr. Biden said he wished he had “moved a month earlier” to ramp up testing capacity, but he rejected the idea that he should fire any members of his pandemic response team and he refused to accept that problems with testing should be seen as a major failure by his administration.

“Should we have done more testing earlier? Yes,” Mr. Biden said. “But we’re doing more now.”

The president took questions as members of his party in the Senate delivered speeches on behalf of the voting rights legislation in what they already acknowledged was a doomed effort because of unified Republican opposition and refusal by a handful of Democratic senators to change the chamber’s rules.

The idea of the debate was to underscore Republican refusal to deal with what Democrats insist is election subversion and voter suppression in states across the country. But the vote also highlighted the limits on Mr. Biden’s ability to pressure members of his own party to fall in line behind their president.

Mr. Biden said he had not completely given up on passing some kind of voting rights legislation, and he rejected criticism from some African Americans who say he has not fought hard enough for voting protections.

“I’ve had their back,” he said. “I’ve had their back my entire career. I’ve never not had their back. I started on the voting rights issues long, long ago.”

Mr. Biden repeatedly urged Americans to have patience with him, acknowledging that he had “not yet” accomplished everything he said he would when he ran for office.

On improving trade with China, Mr. Biden said that “we’re not there yet.” And on the pandemic, he had the same answer: I’m not done yet.

“Some people may call what’s happening now the new normal,” he said. “I call it a job not yet finished. It will get better.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 3:31 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 3:31 p.m. ET

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Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

America’s economy has bounced back from its early-pandemic shutdowns with a speed that has surprised forecasters everywhere, but President Biden is struggling to declare victory as a painful surge in inflation burdens consumers — a reality that informed his comments about the economy on Wednesday afternoon.

“Covid-19 has created a lot of economic complications, including rapid price increases across the world economy,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday, calling the burst of inflation a major challenge.

In the United States, the Consumer Price Index climbed by 7 percent in the year through December, its biggest annual increase since 1982. While wages are rising quickly, paychecks have struggled to keep up as companies charge more for groceries, couches, apartment rent and automobile parts.

The White House, the Federal Reserve and private sector economists initially expected inflation to jump in early 2021 before rapidly fading. Instead, it has accelerated by more than they had expected and remained elevated. The surprise came both because consumers have been spending heavily — particularly on goods — and because global supply chains have been struggling to ramp up production to meet that demand as coronavirus outbreaks cause factories to shut down and shipping backlogs clog ports and delay part deliveries.

Mr. Biden’s administration has tried to ease price gains around the edges, encouraging longer port operating hours, trying to promote corporate competition and releasing strategic petroleum reserves in a bid to lower fuel prices. But the White House has limited tools for taming inflation, especially as rising prices become more widespread across the economy.

But controlling inflation is primarily left to the Fed, which operates independently of the White House and can raise interest rates to slow down borrowing and spending. That can temper demand and cool off price increases. Mr. Biden pointed to the Fed’s recent pivot toward controlling inflation as “appropriate.”

Investors and economists increasingly expect the central bank to raise borrowing costs four times — about 1 percentage point — in 2022. The central bank is also rapidly slowing big bond purchases that it has been using to support the economy.

“It’s appropriate” to “recalibrate the support that is now necessary,” Mr. Biden said, noting that the central bank has the “critical job” of making sure that elevated prices don’t become entrenched.

Mr. Biden has recently nominated five officials to the central bank’s board in Washington, including renominating Chair Jerome H. Powell to a second term. In doing so, he has emphasized the importance of both fostering a strong labor market and of keeping a lid on prices.

America’s inflation burst is a political vulnerability for Mr. Biden in part because economists have argued that the stimulus package passed under his watch in March 2021 stoked demand and helped to pump up prices.

The package was not the sole or even primary cause of inflation — price gains have swept many countries around the world amid the pandemic reopening, and data earlier Wednesday showed that British inflation is running at the fastest pace in 30 years. But it did put more money in consumer bank accounts, fueling spending and exacerbating the mismatch between demand and available supply.

Republicans have made a habit of blaming Democrats and the administration for high prices, an argument that could resonate with voters headed into 2022 midterm elections. Democrats have a narrow grasp on the Senate, so the political stakes are high.

The administration has recently emphasized that the factors pushing up inflation are heavily global — implicitly playing down the role that government spending has played in stoking consumer demand and pushing up prices.

“When a factory shuts down in one part of the world, shipments to shops and homes and businesses all over the world are disrupted,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday. He later blamed the supply chain, and emphasized that problems in car manufacturing have been a big driver of U.S. inflation.

“The inflation has everything to do with the supply chain,” Mr. Biden said.

Democrats have also talked about the degree to which corporations are raking in profits, arguing that encouraging competition could help to bring prices down over time.

“It’s not been the reason we’ve had high inflation today — it’s not the only reason,” Mr. Biden said of concentrated industries on Wednesday. “It’s been happening for a decade. But over time, it has reduced competition, squeezed out small businesses and farmers, ranchers, and increased the price for consumers.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 2:55 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 2:55 p.m. ET

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

As he prepared to take the oath of office last year, President Biden could hardly have imagined the challenges — and the decline in his political fortunes — that he would face a year into his presidency.

He succeeded at getting 209 million Americans fully vaccinated against coronavirus, nearly two-thirds of the population, but the country is still gripped by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. He passed the American Rescue Plan and a huge infrastructure bill that languished for years, yet most of the rest of his domestic agenda is stalled — not because of Republicans, but because of fighting in his own party. Build Back Better, a $1.75 trillion social policy bill — and more remarkably, the voting rights bill the Senate is debating on Wednesday — are stalemated at best and perhaps doomed.

Mr. Biden’s approval ratings are down precipitously, and a once soaring stock market has turned wobbly. And while the president desperately wants to focus on China, fears of a war in Europe loom.

For days, Mr. Biden’s aides have been preparing him to explain this moment in his presidency. He is taking stock of his first year in office in a news conference. He has been advised to promote his successes more loudly.

“Every week will be infrastructure week, only this time we will be building stuff,” Mitch Landrieu, Mr. Biden’s infrastructure coordinator, said on Tuesday. “We haven’t spent money like this in generations.”

The president has other changes to celebrate. Washington is no longer patrolled by National Guard troops, as it was on his Inauguration Day, two weeks after the Capitol riot. While an average of more than 1,880 Americans are dying of Covid-19 each day and the country’s Covid hospitalizations are at a pandemic high, the federal vaccination campaign prevented what could have been a winter calamity on a scale the United States has not seen in more than 100 years. Unemployment is at an astounding low of 3.9 percent, and employers are scrambling to hire workers.

“Forty-six percent of schools were open a year ago; now, over 95 percent,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday. It is one of many statistics that are undoubtedly being stuffed into Mr. Biden’s briefing book.

The president can say that — despite a few bumps in the road — he has restored American alliances and assured the world that Washington will listen and lead.

But none of that has seemed enough. The gap between the White House’s optimism and the lived experience of ordinary Americans is likely to be the focus of the questions Mr. Biden will face at his news conference.

He will almost certainly be asked why his administration did not move earlier to ensure a steady supply of hundreds of millions of home test kits — an omission that the president has acknowledged but not truly explained. He is also likely to be pressed on the supply chain shortages evident in emptier supermarket shelves, and whether it will end soon or become a feature of American life for years.

Mr. Biden will almost certainly have to explain why he is allowing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act to be debated when he knows it is certain to be defeated, killed by the refusal of two Democratic senators to upend rules around the filibuster. And, if the questions go that far, he might be asked why his signature piece of legislation to put the United States on a better competitive footing with China, the $250 billion U.S. Innovation and Competition Act — which he claimed would pour billions of dollars into semiconductor manufacturing and artificial intelligence research, and was passed by a wide bipartisan majority in the Senate — has never been taken up by a House controlled by his party.

Such legislative setbacks reflect one of Mr. Biden’s greatest political frustrations. The Democrats’ liberal wing is disappointed that the bold agenda he promised a year ago has not passed. The moderate wing fears that in the past year, independents and particularly suburban voters have been swinging Republican — and that the progressive agenda will drive them away in greater numbers.

Inside the White House, Mr. Biden’s aides fear that his troubles could be heightened by a challenge no one expected a year ago: the possible outbreak of a land war in Europe amid stalled talks and Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border.

In the hours before Mr. Biden planned to speak, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in Kyiv, Ukraine, that a Russian attack could begin on “very short notice,” adding to the drumbeat from the administration that Moscow’s plan might include staging a “false flag” incident that could be used as a pretext for war.

Mr. Biden’s challenge will be to persuade leaders in the West that the United States will work to deter an attack if it can and counter one if it happens, without committing U.S. troops. And he will have to explain to Americans why this is their fight — what the implications will be for dealing with China and others, if President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia defies him and rolls his forces across the Ukrainian border.

“I strongly, strongly hope that we can keep this on a diplomatic and peaceful path,” Mr. Blinken said. “But ultimately, that’s going to be President Putin’s decision.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 2:10 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 2:10 p.m. ET

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

This past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with a fight for voting rights again at the center of the political agenda, one quotation from the slain civil rights leader’s vast repertoire dominated liberals’ calls to action.

“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress,” ran the quote circulated on Monday by many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, who openly called it a jab.

The contemporary targets of those words Dr. King wrote from a Birmingham jail in 1963 were two particular white moderates, Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. They were singled out not because they oppose the far-reaching voting rights bill that is before the Senate this week — they and 48 other senators who caucus with the Democrats support it — but because they refuse to obliterate the Senate’s filibuster rule to pass it over the opposition of all 50 Republicans.

The remarkable vitriol being trained by Democratic activists on two members of their own party has largely given Republicans a pass for blocking the bill and standing by new state laws designed to limit access to the ballot box and empower partisan actors to administer elections and count votes.

Republican senators such as Rob Portman of Ohio, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roy Blunt of Missouri would face few repercussions for breaking with their party’s leaders and backing such legislation, since they will be retiring at the end of the year.

Yet they are standing against the Democratic bill, and have given little indication that they would be willing to negotiate a narrower ballot-access measure. Mr. Portman said on Tuesday that Democrats were using “overwrought, exaggerated, and deeply divisive” accusations to push “an unprecedented federal takeover of our election system.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 1:30 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 1:30 p.m. ET

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Credit…Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — In three critical battleground states, Democratic governors have blocked efforts by Republican-controlled legislatures to restrict voting rights and undermine the 2020 election.

Now, the 2022 races for governor in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — states that have long been vital to Democratic presidential victories, including Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s — are taking on major new significance.

At stake are how easy it is to vote, who controls the electoral system and, some Democrats worry, whether the results of federal, state and local elections will be accepted no matter which party wins.

That has left Govs. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania standing alone, in what is already expected to be a difficult year for their party, as what Democrats view as a sea wall against a rising Republican tide of voting restrictions and far-reaching election laws.

The question of who wins their seats in 2022 — Mr. Evers and Ms. Whitmer are running for re-election, while Mr. Wolf is term-limited — has become urgent, as Republicans in all three states, spurred on by former President Donald J. Trump, have made clearer than ever their intent to reshape elections should they take unified control.

Republican candidates for governor in the three states have proposed additional cutbacks to voting access and measures that would give G.O.P. officials more power over how elections are run. And the party is pushing such efforts wherever it has the power to do so.

Jan. 19, 2022, 12:51 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 12:51 p.m. ET

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden began his latest push for voting rights legislation just over a week ago, flying to Atlanta to call for lawmakers to “defend our democracy” and make changes to the rules of the Senate if needed to push the bills through.

But after delivering that speech, making a rare visit to Capitol Hill, and hosting a meeting with two key Democratic holdouts — Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — the president’s flurry of activity has done little to change the outlook.

“The honest-to-God answer is I don’t know whether we can get this done,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday after leaving a meeting with Senate Democrats.

For months, the Biden administration had been under pressure by civil rights activists and allies to push Senate Democrats to change the chamber’s rules for the sake of two pieces of legislation: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Supporters say the passage of those measures would combat the spread of restrictive voting bills signed into law in states across the country.

But after spending 36 years in the Senate and centering much of his presidential campaign on his ability to negotiate with members of that body, Mr. Biden was reluctant to forcefully lobby for a change to the rules until last week, when he said in Atlanta that Senate traditions like the filibuster were being abused.

“Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” Mr. Biden said.

But in the days since Mr. Biden’s speech, Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin, two crucial votes for moving forward with changes to the filibuster, have said they continue to oppose doing so, leaving the White House with a stark math problem as the Senate debates the future of the measures.

The impasse looms large ahead of Mr. Biden’s news conference scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday. Asked about what the president would say if a reporter posed a question about the voting rights bills, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that “until his last breath, he will be fighting for the protection of voting rights. And that means conversations and fighting to get legislation at the federal level through is going to continue.”

The White House has insisted that there is ultimately little Mr. Biden can unilaterally do to change the rules of the Senate. Instead, administration officials have been meeting with activists and stakeholders to discuss ways to spur voting at the grassroots level.

Activists insist Mr. Biden can and must do more to push the Senate to act.

“He can’t rest this call at the feet of the Senate and walk away,” Martin Luther King III, the oldest living son of the civil rights leader, who met with Mr. Biden ahead of his speech last week in Atlanta, said in an interview. “The president must use the full power of his office to ensure the filibuster finally falls.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 12:18 p.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 12:18 p.m. ET

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Underscoring the insurmountable gap between the parties on the biggest issues, the opening hours of the Senate debate on the Democrats’ voting rights legislation were dominated by arguments over the very existence of voter suppression.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, immediately set the tone by referring to the election of 1868: the first time freed Black men were able to participate in a federal election. He suggested that the question before the Senate on Wednesday was whether it would accede to efforts to roll back voting rights that were secured over more than 150 years.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, followed Mr. Schumer’s speech with three references, in quick succession, to “Washington Democrats’ fake panic,” “a fake panic over election laws that seems to exist only in their own imaginations” and “professional liberals’ fake hysteria over state voting laws.” He argued that the laws passed by Republicans in 19 states last year, which would make voting harder in many ways, had no suppressive effect.

Mr. McConnell then left the Senate floor, a fact that Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, commented on acidly.

“I’m sorry that he did not stay for a question,” Mr. Durbin said, “because I would have asked the basic question raised by Senator Schumer: Does he really believe that there is no evidence of voter suppression in the actions of 19 states across our nation? I think the facts speak for themselves.”

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican whip, took the floor after Mr. Durbin. Saying he was “not a racist,” Mr. Thune sought to frame Republican opposition to Democrats’ voting rights push as a matter of states’ right to regulate their own elections. (Similar arguments were common in opposition to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.)

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:45 a.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:45 a.m. ET

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Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

With Republicans united in opposition to their voting rights legislation, Democrats are determined to try to change Senate rules to enable them to push it through unilaterally.

That would require changes to the famed filibuster rule, which allows a minority of senators to block action on a bill, unless proponents can muster a 60-vote majority to put aside the objections and move forward.

President Biden has endorsed the approach, but it appears destined to fail given the opposition of two Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes would be needed to change the rules.

Democrats have proposed limiting the changes to voting rights measures, which they argue have a special status because they are vital to preserving democracy, but lawmakers in both parties recognize that any change would erode the filibuster for all bills.

That would mark a fundamental change in the chamber’s procedures, but one that Democrats say is long overdue.

They have zeroed in on a proposal that would restore the “talking” filibuster by requiring lawmakers to hold the floor, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-style, while they are blocking legislation, the way that the naïve but principled senator played by Jimmy Stewart did in the 1939 film.

Such marathon speechifying was the norm until 1970, but under modern Senate practice, opponents of legislation need not talk at all. They simply must secure commitments from 41 senators to oppose a bill and it is considered filibustered and stalls.

The change would shift the burden to those wishing to block legislation, rather than putting the onus on champions to find 60 votes.

Democrats would do so in part by strictly enforcing what is known in the Senate as the “two-speech rule,” which affords each senator no more than two chances to speak on the floor on a given measure during a legislative day. After any senator who wished had had time to speak, the Senate would then move to a final vote on the legislation, which would require only a simple, 51-vote majority rather than 60.

Changing Senate rules normally requires a supermajority of 67 votes, an impossibility in this case given Republicans’ strident opposition and the 50-50 partisan breakdown of the chamber. Instead, Democrats plan to use what is known as the nuclear option, staging a series of votes on the floor to try to overrule Senate precedents on a strictly partisan vote.

That is how Democrats eliminated the 60-vote threshold on most nominees in 2013, and how Republicans did the same on Supreme Court nominees in 2017.

But it requires a 51-vote majority, which would require the support of every Democrat and independent, plus Vice President Kamala Harris. Given the opposition of Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin, who argue the move would irreparably damage the Senate, Democrats are all but certain to fall short of that.

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:30 a.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 10:30 a.m. ET

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Activist groups on Wednesday called on Democrats to reform the Senate filibuster to pass a voting rights bill, seeking to present a united front behind lowering the long-held 60-vote threshold that has stymied several voting access measures President Biden’s administration is eager to pass.

Prominent organizations that represent a range of the party’s major issues — including abortion rights, criminal justice reform, gun rights, and combating climate change — released statements saying ending the filibuster was key to implementing the party’s larger agenda.

The move, which comes after other groups said they would no longer endorse Democrats who do not support ending the filibuster, is intended to pressure the Senate holdouts who have opposed the change — Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It also represents a moment of open intraparty warfare.

Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema oppose changes to the filibuster, arguing the move would upend decades of tradition protecting minority party’s rights and lead to greater dysfunction in the Senate. Ms. Sinema has said she believes Democrats would regret the move the next time Republicans control the chamber.

A statement from Stand Up America, one of the many grass roots groups that helped Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, invoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writing on the “dangers of the white moderate.”

“While Black and brown voters face increasing attacks on their freedom to vote, Senators Manchin and Sinema continue to accept delay and inaction as they maintain their defense of the Jim Crow filibuster and wait for Republican support of voting rights that is not coming,” the statement said.

Emily’s List, the largest funder of female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, threatened to pull its funding of Ms. Sinema if she refuses to change the filibuster. NARAL Pro-Choice America, another prominent abortion rights group, quickly followed, saying it wouldn’t endorse senators who don’t “support changing the Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation.”

Jamal Raad, executive director of the Evergreen Action Fund, a climate group that released a statement urging Congress to act on voting rights, said: “The Senate must pass both bills — and change any antiquated Senate rule standing in their way.”

“It’s not one crisis over another, these issues are interwoven — Congressional leaders must show that they can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Mr. Raad said.

Earlier this week, other well-known political activists were arrested at the U.S. Capitol Building as they held a sit-in urging Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin to change their stance. They said they were carrying out the mission of past civil rights leaders.

“We are coming together to honor the tradition of John Lewis and engage in good trouble to redeem the soul of this nation and protect our democracy,” said The Rev. Stephen Green, who chairs a group called Faith for Black Lives and was arrested in Washington.

“Now is the time for the Senate to go on record and vote to determine whether or not this country will choose fascism or choose democracy,” he said.

The crescendo of criticism is likely to intensify as Democrats plow ahead with a vote this week on two voting rights proposals, which would give the federal government more power to combat state election laws that make it harder to vote, change redistricting laws, and give states more tools to expand access to mail-in balloting and early voting.

However, under current Senate rules, the bills would either need Republican support or a change to the filibuster, allowing Democrats to pass the measures with just 51 votes. Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema have long said they oppose changing Senate rules. Ms. Sinema restated her opposition last week in a floor speech. Mr. Manchin has done it repeatedly for months.

This week, when asked about the activist criticism and pressure, Mr. Manchin was unfazed.

“It’s rough and tumble,” he said to reporters at the Capitol. “We’re used to that. Bring it on.”

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:58 a.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:58 a.m. ET

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Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Senators on Wednesday will debate far-reaching legislation to protect voting rights, combining two bills: the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Here’s what the legislation aims to do:

The measure includes an array of proposals encompassed in Democrats’ For the People Act that would establish nationwide standards for ballot access, aiming to nullify the wave of new restrictions in Republican-led states. It would require that states allow at minimum 15 consecutive days of early voting and that all voters can request to vote by mail, establish new automatic voter registration programs and make Election Day a national holiday.

It is a narrower version of legislation that Democrats introduced early last year but revised to suit Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who was the only member of their party opposed to the original bill. At his insistence, it includes a provision requiring voters to present some form of identification, although it is much less stringent than the one that Republicans have sought to impose in states across the country.

The legislation also incorporates a bill named for Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon and former congressman who died in 2020, that would restore parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act weakened by Supreme Court rulings. Among them is a provision mandating that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination win prior approval — or “preclearance” — from the Justice Department or federal courts in Washington before changing their voting rules.

It would also mandate that most jurisdictions in the country — not only those with a history of discrimination — get federal approval before adopting certain electoral changes, like stringent new voter identification requirements, removing polling places, completing the lines of districts or putting in place new policies to cull voter rolls.

The measure would also lower the bar for plaintiffs suing to stop elections changes under the Voting Rights Act to win preliminary injunctions to keep them from taking effect until a court can review them.

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:21 a.m. ET

Jan. 19, 2022, 9:21 a.m. ET

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Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked action on Democrats’ far-reaching federal voting rights protections, thwarting a key piece of President Biden’s agenda after senators sparred during a rare, often fierce, all-day debate about access to the ballot box and the integrity of the filibuster.

Democratic senators pleaded for passage of the legislation, which combined two separate voting rights bills, painting state measures imposed by Republican legislatures curtailing access to vote as a threat to democracy so dire that longstanding filibuster rules should be changed to enact them.

Republicans were equally passionate in their denunciations of the Democratic effort, accusing their opponents of concocting a false crisis to justify a federal takeover of local voting rules to warp the results for partisan gain.

But the drama of the day did little to change the results of the vote to cut off debate on the legislation, which fell strictly along party lines. Though every senator who caucuses with the Democrats supported it, a Republican filibuster blocked the voting rights measure from reaching a final vote, denying it 60 votes in an outcome that appeared obvious before Democratic leaders had even called the question.

Democratic leaders planned to swiftly move to change the Senate’s filibuster rules without Republican consent. But that, too, was on track to be blocked when Democratic Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona join all 50 Republicans in voting it down, denying their party the majority it would need to make the change.

Hours before the vote, Mr. Biden conceded at a news conference at the White House that the legislation, as written, was unlikely to pass, though he expressed optimism that Democrats would be able to pass into law some kind of scaled down electoral bill.

“I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was to make sure President Biden didn’t get anything done,” Mr. Biden said, venting frustration at Republican intransigence. “What are Republicans for?”

Senators spent all day debating the bill, which the House approved last week, and arguing over the very nature of their institution as they clashed over the rights of the minority to thwart legislation, and whether the filibuster — a storied Senate tool for asserting them — needed to be weakened.

“Nothing less than the very future of our democracy is at stake, and we must act or risk losing what so many Americans have fought for — and died for — for nearly 250 years,” said Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan.

Though they brought up the legislation on Tuesday using a procedural shortcut that avoided an initial Republican blockade, Democrats were far short of the votes needed to win its passage over unified G.O.P. opposition and lacked the votes needed in their party to change Senate rules and enact it unilaterally.

Republicans were firm in their opposition, saying it was the Democratic Party that was seeking to influence election results for partisan gain. In Washington, Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, said, “Every edge is sought, and every edge secured is exploited to keep your party in power.”

Still, Democratic leaders announced that they would mount a long-shot effort to establish an exception to the filibuster for voting rights bills, requiring opponents to hold the floor for an old-style “talking filibuster” that would allow a final, 51-senator majority vote — instead of the 60 currently needed — to move forward after all senators exhaust their opportunities to speak.

“If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the Senate rules must be reformed,” Mr. Schumer said.

The Democrats’ plan, unveiled in a private party meeting on Tuesday night, would still require a partisan vote to change the rules, meaning it could not succeed at this point given resistance from at least two Democrats.

No Republican currently supports the voting rights measure, which combines two far-reaching bills intended to protect access to the ballot box, leaving Democrats 10 votes short in the evenly divided Senate.

As debate got underway, many Democrats were seated at their mahogany desks on the floor, a show of force they planned to continue throughout the day for what they considered a historic debate. Republicans, by contrast, were mostly absent.

When they did appear, it was to rail against the legislation and Democrats’ portrayal of its opponents as bigots trying to enable voting restrictions aimed at people of color.

“I am not a racist,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

The impasse has led to intensifying calls to unilaterally change filibuster rules so Democrats can bulldoze over Republicans’ objections. But at least two Democrats, Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin, have made clear they will not do so, even though they support the legislation, a stance that has infuriated some of their colleagues.

“If you’re prepared to vote for the bill, why are you wasting everybody’s time and not voting for the rule change that allows us to pass the bill?” asked Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont. “It’s like inviting somebody to lunch, putting out a great spread, and saying, ‘You can’t eat.’”

Mr. Manchin took to the Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon to defend his position, even as Mr. Biden lamented in his news conference at the White House that Republicans had stalled his legislative agenda, including the voting rights measure. The West Virginian said he wholeheartedly supported the bill itself, but not his party’s effort to change the rules to push it through, which he said amounted to a bid to “break the rules to change the rules.”

“I cannot be a party to that,” Mr. Manchin said, adding that scrapping the filibuster “would be the easy way out — it wasn’t meant to be easy.”

Republicans strongly pushed back on the effort as well. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, reiterated his threat that Republicans would use their power to virtually shut down the Senate should Democrats successfully execute what is known as the “nuclear option” and gut the filibuster.

“The Senate in nuclear winter would not be a hospitable place,” he warned.

Jan. 11, 2022, 12:04 p.m. ET

Jan. 11, 2022, 12:04 p.m. ET

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Credit…Shuran Huang for The New York Times

The current battle over voting rights — who gets to vote, how votes are cast and counted, who oversees the process — has turned what was once the humdrum machine room of United States democracy into a central partisan battlefield with enormous stakes for the future of American democracy.

Since the 2020 election, and spurred in large part by former President Donald J. Trump’s oft-repeated lie that a second term was stolen from him, the Republican Party has made a concerted new effort to restrict voting and give itself more power over the mechanics of casting and counting ballots.

In 2021, Republican-led legislatures in dozens of states enacted wide-ranging laws overhauling their election systems, and G.O.P. lawmakers are planning a new wave of such laws in 2022.

Here is a quick rundown of those efforts, Democratic pushback and why it all matters.

The 2020 election saw a sea change in voting habits. Driven largely by the pandemic, millions of Americans embraced voting early in person and voting by mail.

Democrats in particular flocked to the two forms of early voting — a trend that raised alarms among Republicans. And Mr. Trump attacked mailed-in ballots in hopes of overturning the election’s result.

Since then, Republican-led legislatures have justified new restrictions on voting by citing a lack of public confidence in elections.

Broadly, the party is taking a two-pronged approach: Imposing additional restrictions on voting (especially mail voting), and giving Republican-controlled state legislatures greater control over the administration of elections.

The newest restrictions could have outsize effects in racially diverse, densely populated areas. In Georgia, the four big counties at the core of metropolitan Atlanta — Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett — will have no more than 23 drop boxes in future elections, down from the 94 available in 2020.

The stakes are enormous: In battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, where the 2020 presidential margins were less than 13,000 votes, even a slight curtailment of turnout could tilt the outcome.

Through Congress and the courts, but with limited success.

In Congress, Democrats have focused their efforts on two sweeping bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. But Republicans in the 50-50 Senate have blocked both. That leaves many Democrats pressing for a change to the Senate’s filibuster rules, but some moderates, including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, are opposed.

Yes — but far less than they once could.

The Supreme Court has greatly weakened the Voting Rights Act over the last decade, deeply cutting into the Justice Department’s authority over voting and giving states new latitude to impose restrictions.

Democrats, civil-rights groups and voting-rights organizations have filed more than 30 lawsuits opposing new voting laws. But the legal process can sometimes take years.

Nineteen states passed 34 laws restricting voting in 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Some of the most significant legislation was enacted in battleground states.

Georgia limited drop boxes, stripped the secretary of state of some of his authority, imposed new oversight of county election boards, restricted who can vote with provisional ballots and made it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in lines.

Read the full story for details about the laws passed in specific states, where more extreme efforts are underway, important background and more.