Senate Democrats have pivoted back to their plan to overhaul voting laws as hopes fade for passing President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill before Christmas.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn’t pulled the plug on a pre-Christmas vote on the $1.85 trillion spending plan but said Wednesday Democrats are refocusing on the controversial Freedom to Vote and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement acts. Those measures were crafted in response to red-state vote integrity laws passed in the wake of the 2020 election, which Democrats have framed as discriminatory and restrictive.

“There is a universal view in our caucus that we need to pass legislation to protect our democracy,” Schumer said Wednesday. “What the Republican legislatures are doing, on a purely partisan basis, is undermining, destroying our democracy.”

The new focus underscores the dimming prospects of passing Biden's signature bill by Christmas. The plan has no GOP support, and key centrist Joe Manchin of West Virginia is no closer to supporting the social welfare and green energy spending bill. Manchin is opposed to several key parts of the bill, among them a methane fee that would raise natural gas prices and a provision providing four weeks of paid family and medical leave, which he believes should be negotiated in a separate bill with Republicans in order to ensure its longevity.

“I would like to see our Build Back Better dealt with as quickly as possible, but if we can’t deal with that right now, it’s far more important that we deal with the voting rights issue,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and socialist.

Democrats on Tuesday and Wednesday huddled in private meetings to try to come to an agreement on creating a “carve out” for the filibuster in order to pass a voting reform bill with only Democratic votes. But like the Build Back Better Act, that would also require Manchin’s buy-in. There is now mounting pressure on him to agree to a one-time suspension of the filibuster, but Manchin remains reluctant, however, as do other Senate moderates.

“Rules change should be done where we all have input because we are all going to have to live with it,” Manchin told reporters earlier this week. “Because we are going to be in the minority some time, then the majority, back and forth.”


Democrats have attempted to pass their voting overhaul legislation in various forms this year, but Republicans have blocked them, arguing the proposals hinder voter integrity, would result in a federal takeover of local elections, and are written to favor Democratic victories at the polls.

Manchin helped negotiate a voter overhaul bill meant to increase access to the polls. It allowed voter ID requirements but loosened them significantly and would have restored a decades-old requirement that the federal government approve redistricting in certain states and municipalities to combat racial discrimination.

The bill won the support of one Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.