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WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans voted in unity Wednesday to block the advancement of a package of sweeping election legislation pushed by Democrats in a tense showdown over national voting rights.

The vote on the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was 49-51. The vote broke evenly along party lines, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer switched his vote to “no” in the end for procedural reasons. It fell short of the 60 votes required to defeat a filibuster under Senate rules.

Senate Democratic leaders now turn to a planned effort to change the rules, impose a “talking filibuster” and ultimately pass the legislation without Republicans once debate ends,

The vote is set to be followed by an attempt by Senate Democratic leaders to change that 60-vote rule, impose a “talking filibuster” and ultimately pass the legislation without Republicans once debate ends.

That effort, which is expected later Wednesday night and would require only 50 votes, is also expected to fail.

Still, Schumer has been determined to force the vote and put every senator on the record for what he says is a defining moment for democracy. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived on Capitol Hill after sundown to preside over the debate.

“I believe that voting rights are more important than a procedural rule,” said freshman Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., whose victory in Georgia last year helped give Democrats control of the chamber.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., took to the floor to reiterate his support for the 60-vote threshold to pass most bills. He said he’s a proud cosponsor of the two voting rights measures but opposes a rule change to pass them.

“I have not — and will never — waver on this,” he said, arguing that curtailing the filibuster would pour “fuel on the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing our nation apart.”

Jan. 19, 202201:14

Before Manchin’s speech, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., an outspoken filibuster opponent, made a last-ditch effort to persuade his West Virginia colleague, walking over to him on the Senate floor with a piece of paper that said, “Vote on final passage!”

The proposed rule change would require a “talking filibuster” for only the voting legislation, which would mean a simple majority could pass it after Republicans use all of the allowable time to speak.

The new rule would shift the onus away from a Senate majority to find 60 votes to advance the legislation and toward the minority to hold the floor and talk continuously to block bills.

“The eyes of history are upon us,” Schumer said Wednesday. “If the Republicans block cloture on the legislation before us, I will put forward a proposal to change the Senate rules to allow for a talking filibuster on this legislation.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also supports keeping the filibuster intact.

Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, of Arizona, said on Wednesday he will support a Senate rule change. He had not previously taken a position on the filibuster.

“If campaign finance and voting rights reforms are blocked again this week, I will support the proposed changes to pass them with a majority vote,” Kelly said in a statement. “Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Manchin and Sinema for backing the 60-vote rule on Wednesday, calling it “the biggest day in the history of the Senate, because we are dealing with the Senate as an institution.”

The Freedom to Vote Act would create a set of standards for federal elections to ensure that voters have similar access to the ballot box nationwide. The bill would require states to offer a minimum number of days for early voting and the ability to vote by mail for any reason. It would also make Election Day a national holiday.

The other measure, named after the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., would update the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark legislation that barred discriminatory election laws.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who opposes the Freedom To Vote Act but supports the John Lewis bill, said she’ll vote “no” on the combined package and the rules change effort.

“What we’re faced with today — or later today — is going to be a take-it-or-leave-it vote and then an effort to change how we approach hard issues,” she said.

Teaganne Finn contributed.

Source: This post first appeared on NBC News

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