Out Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat from Arizona, took to the Senate floor on Thursday to announce that she would not be supporting changing filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation.
The filibuster is a procedure in the Senate used to extend debate or delay a vote on legislation. It can only end with two-thirds majority support. In voicing her opposition to changing the filibuster, Sinema weakened Democrats' hopes of passing legislation that will most likely see a Republican filibuster.
Sinema, the country's first out bisexual senator, said that while she supported the voting rights legislation and held concerns over voting restrictions passed by several Republican-led states, weakening the filibuster would only lead to more political division.
"These bills help treat the symptoms of the disease, but they do not fully address the disease itself," Sinema said. "And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country."
"There's no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation," she said. "It is the view I continue to hold."
The Arizona senator said that changing the filibuster would lead to political swings when power switches political parties.
"American politics are cyclical and the granting of power in Washington, D.C., is exchanged regularly by the voters from one party to another," Sinema said. "What is the legislative filibuster other than a tool that requires new federal policy to be broadly supported by Senators representing a broader cross-section of Americans, a guardrail inevitably viewed as an obstacle by whoever holds the Senate majority, but which in reality ensures that millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice in the process."
Her speech came only about an hour before Present Joe Biden is scheduled to speak with Senate Democrats.
Sinema's floor speech is a setback for Biden. The president gave a speech earlier this week that called for a change in Senate rules if the rules are preventing important legislation from being passed.
Senate Democrats have urged Sinema to back the change to the filibuster, according to The New York Times. However, her declaration on Thursday seems to have doomed the bills.
Lawmakers in the House had passed a set of voting rights bills on Thursday. Democrats have said the bills are necessary to prevent Republican-led states from making voting more difficult come November. They've argued that these measures in these states specifically target voting by minority communities.
"There are people who don't want you to vote and they are using every tool in the toolbox to make it harder," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, told the Times. "Voter suppression has not been consigned to the history books. It is here today, right now."
Just two Democrats sat in the Senate chamber during her comments. Several Republicans were present, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky.
He told reporters that he was happy with Sinema's speech, NPR reports.
"She literally saved the Senate as an institution," McConnell said. "It was an act of conspicuous political courage."