U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and other Senate Democrats are charging forward on a new voting bill, but there is no indication they will be able to win Republican support in the chamber, or change the filibuster, to pass the plan.
Yet Klobuchar said in an interview that she views the latest legislation as "a major breakthrough" following negotiations in July and August that resulted in West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democratic swing vote, signing on to the new bill.
"It's the first agreement that we've had on the substance," Klobuchar said. "And you really have to start on an agreement on the substance before you get to the next step."
The downscaled proposal was rolled out last week after an effort to start debate on a more sweeping election overhaul failed on the Senate floor in June due to GOP opposition. The new version, dubbed the Freedom to Vote Act, comes in a year when some GOP-led states tightened voting laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump's widespread false attacks on the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.
Republicans in the Senate have derided Democrats' efforts, and the topic has been one of the most contentious partisan issues facing lawmakers.
"There is no reason for the federal government to take over how we conduct elections," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters after the new bill was announced. "It is a solution in search of a problem, and we will not be supporting that."
According to the bill text and a summary released by Klobuchar's office, the legislation would create a public holiday on the federal Election Day in November, guarantee an early voting period in federal elections and set national standards for access to voting by mail, among other major moves.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said the bill will "say to the rest of the country, you should have the same right to vote that we have in Minnesota without any of the barriers that we don't face in Minnesota."
After vowing to vote against Democrats' earlier election reform bill called the For the People Act, Manchin supported starting debate back in June as a route to making changes he was hoping to seek. He's now a cosponsor of the voting bill made public last week.
"As elected officials, we also have an obligation to restore people's faith in our Democracy, and I believe that the commonsense provisions in this bill — like flexible voter ID requirements — will do just that," Manchin said in a statement.
The challenge of the Senate's legislative filibuster remains for Democrats. To help overcome that hurdle, Democrats would need support from at least 10 Senate Republicans on the bill. Klobuchar and Smith have said they support getting rid of the filibuster. Manchin has remained opposed to such a change.
"I am continuing to talk to my colleagues," Klobuchar said when asked if she sees an opening to win GOP senators' support. "So stay tuned on that. And then we look at procedural changes if we can't do it that way."