Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked the most ambitious voting rights legislation to come before Congress in a generation, using the filibuster to deal a blow to a bid by President Biden and Democrats to counter a wave of state-level ballot restrictions and fueling a political battle that promises to shape the 2022 elections.
All 50 senators in the Democratic caucus voted to advance the measure, known as the For the People Act, but with every Republican opposed, it fell well short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Vice President Kamala Harris, who has taken a leading role in rallying support for the measure, presided as the legislation hit a roadblock.
Democratic leaders immediately vowed to redouble their efforts to steer meaningful voting rights legislation into law. But the Republican blockade left them without a clear path to beating back the restrictive voting laws Mr. Biden has compared to “Jim Crow” racing through Republican-led states. Instead, for now it will largely be left to the Justice Department to try to challenge them in court — a time-consuming process with limited chances of success.
Democrats’ only real hope of enacting an elections overhaul now rests on a long-shot bid to eliminate the legislative filibuster. Seething progressive activists pointed to Republicans’ refusal to even allow debate on the issue as a glaring example of why their representatives in Congress must move to eliminate the rule to bypass Republicans on a range of liberal priorities while they still have power.
“The people did not give Democrats the House, Senate and White House to compromise with insurrectionists,” Representative Ayanna S. Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, wrote on Twitter in the hours before the vote. “Abolish the filibuster so we can do the people’s work.”
They promised a well-funded summertime blitz, replete with home-state rallies and million-dollar ad campaigns, to try to ramp up pressure on a handful of Senate Democrats opposed to the change. For progressives in Congress, mounting frustration with Republicans could also accelerate a growing rift within the Democratic Party over whether to try to pass a bipartisan infrastructure and jobs package or go it alone with a far more ambitious plan.
But key Democratic moderates who have defended the filibuster rule — led by Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — appeared unmoved and said their leaders should try to find narrower bipartisan compromises, including on voting and infrastructure bills.
The Democrats’ voting rights bill would usher in the largest federally mandated expansion of voting rights since the 1960s, ban partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, force super PACs to disclose their big donors and create a new public campaign financing system. It would also effectively blunt laws adopted in 14 Republican-led states so far making it harder for people of color and young people to vote, or shifting power over elections to Republican legislatures.
“There is a rot — a rot at the center of the modern Republican Party,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader. “There is no principle behind these laws: not fraud, not election integrity, not security, not better election administration. The only principle is blatant partisan electoral advantage.”
Republicans never really considered the legislation, or a narrower alternative proposed in recent days by Mr. Manchin. They mounted an aggressive campaign in congressional committees, on television and finally on the Senate floor to portray the bill as a self-serving attempt to federalize elections to benefit Democrats.
They particularly savaged provisions restructuring the Federal Election Commission to make it more partisan and the creation of a public campaign financing system for congressional campaigns.
“These same rotten proposals have sometimes been called a massive overhaul for a broken democracy, sometimes just a modest package of tweaks for a democracy that’s working perfectly and sometimes a response to state actions, which this bill actually predates by many years,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader. “But whatever label Democrats slap on the bill, the substance remains the same.”
Mr. McConnell, who made it his personal mission to bury the bill, also decried any attempt to gut the filibuster, especially for such high stakes legislation. “The Senate,” he said, “is no obstacle to voting laws done the right way.”
The Democrats’ expansive voting rights and ethics bill did not start as a battle for the future of democracy, as they frame it, or as the partisan power grab that Republicans call it. The initial driver was the ethical norm-breaking of President Donald J. Trump and his White House.
When House Democrats sat down to write the bill in 2019, passage was the farthest thing from their minds. Democrats running for the House in Republican-leaning districts had campaigned on a poll-tested message of ending corruption in Mr. Trump’s Washington, rooting out money from politics, and ending partisan gerrymandering.
Their newly elected speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wanted to enshrine those campaign pledges as the first bill of the new Democratic House, House Resolution 1 — a transformative measure, but with Republicans controlling the Senate and Mr. Trump in office, one that had no chance of becoming law.
By this year, circumstances had changed dramatically — after the effort by Mr. Trump and his supporters to overturn the results of the 2020 election and amid a rush by Republicans to enact a wave of state-level legislation impeding ballot access — but the bill had not.
What started out as a largely political document suddenly was portrayed by Democrats as an imperative to preserve voting rights and a crucial test of democracy itself. And although Republicans in Congress made it clear they would oppose any bid to expand ballot access, Democratic leaders vowed to use their narrow majorities in the House and the Senate to try to push it through.
The failure of that strategy became clear on Tuesday. With Republicans making good on their promise to block it, a first procedural vote in the Senate left the legislation far short of the 60 votes it needed to advance, dooming the bill and leaving Democrats with an issue to campaign on — but not the big legislative victory progressives had sought.
The blockade will preserve the status quo post-Trump, freezing action indefinitely in Washington as Republicans at the state level proceed, largely unencumbered, with new laws curtailing early and mail-in voting, while installing partisans to oversee and certify the next election.
Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote to confirm President Biden’s nominee to run the Office of Personnel Management, Kiran Ahuja, overcoming Republican objections to her nomination that centered on her views on racial justice.
Ms. Ahuja’s confirmation follows a tumultuous period at the federal human resources agency. O.P.M. had five different directors, three of them acting, while President Donald J. Trump was in office, with one of the confirmed directors quitting under pressure from the White House and the other fired by the president.
“Kiran Ahuja is a qualified, experienced and dedicated public servant who we are looking forward to leading the Office of Personnel Management in its work protecting the safety of the work force, empowering federal employees, and building a federal work force that looks like America,” said Chris Meager, a White House spokesman.
The unified Republican objections centered on Ms. Ahuja’s remarks last year, when she ran a Seattle-based philanthropic organization, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“You can’t be a true ally to Black communities until you take it upon yourself to understand our racialized history in its most intimate and heinous forms,” she wrote last June. “And learn, as I did, that all forms of discrimination flow from the subjugation of Black and Indigenous people.”
Before the vote, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, sought to tie Ms. Ahuja to critical race theory — a framework used to look at how racism is woven into seemingly neutral laws and institutions — which Republicans have used as an organizing tool to energize conservative voters during the Biden presidency.
“I’m concerned that as the federal government’s H.R. director, Ms. Ahuja could use her platform to promote radical ideologies that seek to divide rather than unite the American people,” Mr. Hawley said. “She could bring critical race theory back into federal government training.”
Much to the consternation of some conservatives, Mr. Biden on Inauguration Day rescinded a Trump-era executive order that forbade some workplace diversity and training programs for federal employees and contractors.
Ms. Ahuja, an Indian-born immigrant who was raised in Savannah, Ga., worked in the Department of Justice and as the executive director of President Barack Obama’s Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. With her confirmation, Ms. Ahuja returns to the personnel agency where she served as chief of staff during the final two years of Mr. Obama’s administration.
Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said on Tuesday that the central bank was focused on returning the economy to full strength, and he emphasized that the Fed would be more ambitious and expansive in its understanding of what that meant.
Speaking before House lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Powell emphasized that the Fed was looking at maximum employment as a “broad and inclusive goal” — a standard it set out when it revamped its policy framework last year. That, he said, means the Fed will look at employment outcomes for different gender and ethnic groups.
“There’s a growing realization, really across the political spectrum, that we need to achieve more inclusive prosperity,” Mr. Powell said in response to a question, citing lagging economic mobility in the United States. “These things hold us back as an economy and as a country.”
The Fed cannot solve issues of economic inequality itself, he said. Congress would need to play a role in establishing “a much broader set of policies.”
But Mr. Powell’s explanation of full employment came as many lawmakers wanted to talk about the second of the central bank’s two goals: stable inflation. The Fed chair was quizzed repeatedly about the recent pickup in price gains, with Republicans warning that the trend could become dangerously entrenched — even quoting statistics about recent jumps in bacon and used-car prices — as Democrats warned that the central bank should not be quick to react to the price pressures.
“There’s sort of a perfect storm of very strong demand and weak supply due to the reopening of the economy,” Mr. Powell said, adding that much or all of the recent overshoot in inflation came from short-term bottlenecks. “They don’t speak to a broadly tight economy.”
Mr. Powell added that price jumps have been bigger than expected and that the Fed was monitoring them closely, but he said they were still expected to wane over time. He also acknowledged that economic data was uncertain now, given quirks in supply and demand as businesses reopen.
“We have to be very humble about our ability to really try to draw a signal out of it,” Mr. Powell said.
He said he had “a level of confidence” that strong price gains would be temporary but was not certain when bottlenecks would clear up. Nevertheless, the goods and services categories where costs are picking up quickly, like restaurants and travel, are clearly tied to the pandemic.
“It should not leave much of a mark on the ongoing inflation process,” he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Tuesday called a special session of the Texas Legislature that will begin on July 8, a move that revives Republicans’ effort to enact what are expected to be some of the most far-reaching voting restrictions in the country.
Mr. Abbott, a Republican, was forced to call for a special session after Democratic lawmakers staged an eleventh-hour walkout last month that foiled the Republican effort to overhaul the state’s election systems and delayed other G.O.P. legislative priorities.
The new session restarts the clock.
Republicans will have to start the process from scratch, but it is possible they will simply use the final version of the bill that failed to pass in May as a starting point. Given that the party has control of both chambers of the Legislature, its leadership could pass a new bill along party lines.
The initial voting bill, known as S.B. 7, contained new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, which were used for the first time last year in Harris County, home to Houston and a growing number of the state’s Democratic voters.
The walkout by Democrats, which left Republicans short of the 100-member threshold necessary for a quorum to continue business, infuriated G.O.P. leaders in the state, who cast blame across the State Capitol for failing to pass one of Mr. Abbott’s — and one of former President Donald J. Trump’s — legislative priorities.
Last week, the Texas Democrats who organized the walkout made a pilgrimage to Washington in a last-ditch effort to persuade recalcitrant senators to pass federal voting reforms that were headed to certain failure on Tuesday.
A Senate committee on Tuesday discussed legislation that would establish Washington, D.C., as the nation’s 51st state, after the House passed the measure along party lines earlier this year.
The legislation would create a state called Washington, Douglass Commonwealth — in honor of Frederick Douglass, the Black emancipation and civil rights leader — represented by a single voting representative in the House and two senators for its more than 700,000 residents, many of whom are people of color. Some government property — including the National Mall, the White House and Capitol Hill — would be left under federal control.
While the measure is unlikely to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold given widespread Republican opposition and skepticism among some moderate Democrats, Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, pushed for the Homeland Security Committee to hold the hearing, just the second on the topic in the chamber’s history. He oversaw the first such hearing in 2014, when he served as chairman of the committee.
“Our nation’s capital is home to more than just monuments and museums; it is home to American families who go to work, start businesses, pay their taxes and contribute to America’s economic prowess,” Mr. Carper said as the hearing began. “As every Congress passes, we are failing these fellow Americans and coming well short of our founders’ rallying cry of ‘no taxation without representation.’”
Momentum for statehood has intensified since that inaugural Senate hearing, as advocates and allies of the movement have argued that making the nation’s capital a state would end the disenfranchisement of district residents. The pandemic underscored the disparate treatment of the district, which received less federal emergency relief through the expansive coronavirus aid bill than expected because it is not a state.
President Biden has also said he supports statehood for the district.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s lone nonvoting representative in the House, and Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who pushed for the legislation during his time in the Senate, appeared before the committee to speak on the issue.
One Democrat on the committee, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has not yet said whether she supports the legislation, although 45 of the senators who caucus with Democrats have signed on. Republicans have argued that the bill is unconstitutional, an argument that the White House has privately sought to counter with suggested changes.
The White House on Tuesday publicly acknowledged that President Biden does not expect to meet his goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 and will reach that milestone only for those aged 27 and older.
It would be the first time that Mr. Biden has failed to meet a vaccination goal he has set. If the rate of adult vaccinations continues on the current seven-day average, the country will come in just shy of Mr. Biden’s target, with about 67 percent of adults partly vaccinated by July 4, according to a New York Times analysis.
White House officials have argued that falling short by a few percentage points is not significant, given all the progress the nation has made against Covid-19. “We have built an unparalleled, first-of-its-kind, nationwide vaccination program,” Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic response coordinator, said at a news briefing. “This is a remarkable achievement.”
In announcing the goal on May 4, Mr. Biden made a personal plea to the unvaccinated, saying getting a shot was a “life and death” choice. According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 150 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and 177 million have received at least one dose.
Young adults aged 18 to 26 have so far proven particularly hard to persuade. Younger Americans are less likely to be vaccinated than their elders, and factors like income and education may affect vaccine hesitancy, according to two new studies by the C.D.C.
“The reality is many younger Americans that felt like Covid-19 is not something that impacts them, and they’ve been less eager to get the shot,” Mr. Zients said.
He said it would take “a few extra weeks” to reach more of that group to achieve the goal of 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated.
Mr. Zients and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, both stressed that the administration’s efforts would continue long after that benchmark is reached. Seventy percent “is not the goal line, nor is it the end game,” Dr. Fauci said. “The end game is to go well beyond that, beyond July 4 into the summer and beyond, with the ultimate goal of crushing the outbreak completely in the United States.”
But health experts warn that the falloff in the vaccination rate could mean renewed coronavirus outbreaks this winter when cold weather drives people indoors, with high daily death rates in areas where comparatively few people have protected themselves with shots.
New reported doses administered by day
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Note: Line shows a seven-day average. Data not updated on some weekends and holidays. Includes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of March 5.
“I give credit to the Biden administration for putting in place a mass vaccination program for adults that did not exist,” said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “But now we’ve hit a wall.”
In recent weeks, new infections, hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus have declined sharply nationwide. As of Monday, the seven-day average of new virus cases across the United States was 11,243 cases a day, a nearly 30 percent decrease over the last two weeks, according to a Times database.
But Dr. Fauci also warned of the rising prevalence of the Delta variant, first identified in India, which is more contagious than previous versions of the virus and may cause more severe disease. The variant now accounts for an estimated 20 percent of new infections, he said.
The vaccines authorized in the United States are effective against the Delta variant, and he said the increase lent urgency to the campaign to vaccinate as many Americans as soon as possible.
Unless tens of millions more Americans get vaccinated in the next few months, Dr. Offit said, “I think, come winter, we are going to again see a surge. And that surge is going to occur exactly where you would expect it to occur — in areas that are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated.”
Dr. Fauci said that “there is a danger, a real danger, that if there is a persistence of a recalcitrance to getting vaccinated that you could see localized surges” or regional spikes.
But he added: “I don’t think even under those circumstances that you’re going to see things like 1,000 deaths a day.” At the height of the post-holiday surge in January, the known daily death toll in the United States exceeded 4,000.
Lazaro Gamio contributed reporting.
Priorities USA, one of the biggest Democratic super PACs, announced on Tuesday that it will pump $20 million into voting rights initiatives ahead of the 2022 election cycle, aiming to combat Republican-led election laws with digital ads and organizing as well as in the courts.
The digital effort will include a series of extensive voter information campaigns, going beyond a more traditional approach that would consist solely of persuasion ads. The group’s overall goal is to help people navigate a new balloting landscape created by the many new restrictions passed by Republicans in at least 16 states. The campaigns will also provide voting tools like text message reminders to register to vote or request an absentee ballot.
“The purpose of this program is to really center the voters who we know are particularly targeted by the Republicans’ suppression efforts,” said Danielle Butterfield, the executive director of Priorities USA. “Those are voters of color, Black and Latino voters specifically, and we plan to center them both in our creative and our targeting to make sure that they are aware of how empowering voting is.”
The other significant investment will be on the legal front, where the group has served as one of the leading litigators in voting lawsuits across the country. Priorities USA joined lawsuits in 10 states during the 2020 election and its aftermath, squaring off against legal attempts by Donald J. Trump’s campaign to overturn the election results and pushing back on new voting laws. Though Priorities has not sued any state this year in response to new voting restrictions, group officials said that more legal efforts would be coming soon.
President Biden is set to meet with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, on Friday to discuss humanitarian assistance and security in Afghanistan, which has faced an insurgent offensive by the Taliban since the United States began to withdraw its military forces from the region.
There is increasing concern among members of Congress and former military officials that without U.S. support Afghan troops will be overrun by the Taliban.
On Sunday, the Taliban advanced into Kunduz city, the capital of the province of the same name, as well as Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, where they clashed with security forces. The Taliban have taken control of more than 50 districts in Afghanistan through local mediation, military offenses and government retreats since May 1, when U.S. forces officially began their withdrawal, according to data collected by The New York Times.
“I expect their topic, their focus of their conversation will be to continue to discuss how we can work together to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday.
The administration is facing growing calls to assist Afghans who aided the American military and expected to find sanctuary in the United States, only to encounter bureaucratic delays in the Special Immigrant Visas program for people who have helped Americans overseas.
A bipartisan coalition in Congress introduced legislation on Thursday that would expedite these visas for Afghans and increase the number available to 19,000 from 11,000. The group has also joined immigration advocates in lobbying the Biden administration to arrange for the mass evacuation of Afghan applicants while visas are processed. The Biden administration has resisted such a move.
In a recent interview with CNN, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called evacuation “the wrong word,” and said the focus should instead be on improving the functioning of the visa program.
The White House is considering extending by one month a federal moratorium on evictions scheduled to expire on June 30, in a bid to buy more time to distribute emergency housing aid, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.
The freeze, instituted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last fall to stave off an anticipated wave of evictions spurred by the economic downturn during the pandemic, has significantly limited the economic damage to low-income and working-class renters, according to local officials and tenants’ rights groups.
But the moratorium was never considered more than a stopgap, and landlords have prevailed in several recent federal court cases challenging the legal justification for the C.D.C.’s order — the public health risk posed by the dislocation of tenants during the pandemic.
Local officials have been bracing for a rise in evictions as the federal moratorium and similar state and city orders expire this summer. In some cases, that scramble to assist tenants has dovetailed with the broader goal of improving affordability that is now a core part of the Democratic Party’s agenda.
On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced that the state had set aside $5.2 billion from federal aid packages to pay off the back rent of any tenant who fell behind during the pandemic, an extraordinary move intended to wipe the slate clean for millions of renters in a state dealing with acute homelessness and a housing affordability crisis.
President Biden’s team has been seeking ways to speed up the sluggish distribution of $21.5 billion in emergency rental assistance allocated in the American Recovery Act this spring.
The group met throughout the weekend to discuss potential moves, including the idea of pushing back the deadline until the end of July, which has been under consideration for weeks, the officials said.
But they have yet to sign off on an extension, in part, over concerns in the White House Counsel’s Office that leaving the freeze in place, even for a month, could expose the order to a ruling that could affect executive actions during future crises, one of the officials said.
Administration lawyers are particularly concerned that the Supreme Court will strike down a stay in a lower court decision that ruled the moratorium unconstitutional.
Mr. Biden’s team is pushing ahead with several other actions, including issuing new guidance on using pandemic relief funds that could speed up distribution of payments by states, and increasing coordination with mayors, bar associations and legal services organizations.
But tenants’ rights groups say that simply stopping the clock is the most important action.
“Extending the moratorium is the right thing to do — morally, fiscally, politically, and as a continued public health measure,” said Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, who has pressed the White House for an extension. “Allowing evictions to proceed when there are tens of billions in resources to prevent them would be wasteful and cruel.”
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday partly dismissed claims filed by Black Lives Matter, the American Civil Liberties Union and others accusing the Trump administration of abusing its power to violently disperse a protest outside the White House last year.
The lawsuits alleged that the government violated protesters’ civil rights and conspired to clear Lafayette Square so President Donald J. Trump could walk to a church near the White House, where he held a Bible outside in a photo op.
But in the 51-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich, a Trump appointee, said the claims of a federal conspiracy were “simply too speculative” to allow those parts of the suits to proceed. She also ruled that the federal officials at the time who were named as defendants, such as Attorney General William P. Barr and Gregory T. Monahan, the acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, were entitled to qualified immunity and could not be sued for damages over the episode.
Judge Friedrich did, however, allow lawsuits challenging continued restrictions of protester access to Lafayette Square and against local police agencies in Washington and Arlington County, Va., to proceed.
Scott Michelman, the legal director of the District of Columbia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the decision to dismiss was a “stunning rejection of our constitutional values and protesters’ First Amendment rights.” He added that the decision placed federal officials above the law.
“Today’s ruling essentially gives the federal government a green light to use violence, including lethal force against demonstrators, as long as federal officials claim to be protecting national security,” Mr. Michelman said.
Protesters had gathered in Lafayette Square last June to protest the police killing of George Floyd when police officers and the National Guard flooded into the park to disperse the crowd.
The ensuing violence became one of the defining moments of the Trump presidency. Mounted police and riot officers used flash-bang grenades, tear gas, batons and clubs to forcibly move the crowd away from the park and the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged in a fire the night before.
Minutes later, Mr. Trump appeared at the church — flanked by aides and Secret Service agents. The president posed with a Bible, made no formal remarks and then departed for the White House.