Senate Democrats are preparing to force a vote on a bill to override new elections laws in Republican-led states that they say discriminate against minorities, an effort that faces likely defeat.
But the move provides Democrats with another chance to attack Republicans as racist.
Democratic senators were reportedly closing in Monday on a compromise with holdout Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia on a bill similar to one passed by the House in March. The deal would have the federal government set national elections rules, including loosening states’ requirements that voters show ID.
Rev. Al Sharpton said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer told him in a meeting on Monday that Democrats are trying to round up enough Republican support to avoid the bill from being blocked through a filibuster.
However, in a volley of the partisanship to come, Mr. Sharpton said he and Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader, tried to deliver a letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell requesting a meeting. But Mr. Sharpton said Mr. McConnell’s staff refused to accept the letter from the two and Mr. King’s wife, Arndrea Waters.
Mr. Sharpton said the fact “they’re led by someone who won’t even receive a letter” gives him little hope Republicans will support the bill.
“I have a lot of faith. But there’s a difference between faith and fantasy,” he said.
Mr. Sharpton said even “someone as repugnant as Donald Trump” has met with him.
“So Mitch McConnell is to the right of Donald Trump,” he said.
The opposition from Republicans will ramp up pressure on Mr. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, to go along with ending the ability of the minority party to block legislation through a filibuster.
Mr. Sharpton said Mr. Manchin has a “moral obligation” to support a suspension of the filibuster at least for civil rights legislation.
Bringing up the bill supported by all Democrats will serve a political purpose. Forcing Republican senators to vote against it would provide Democrats and civil rights groups another high-profile opportunity to accuse the GOP of supporting laws that the Left compares to those passed in the racist Jim Crow-era.
“We’ve got to say this loudly that these voter suppression bills are about white supremacy,” Sen. Robert Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, said at a rally near the Capitol calling for blocking the state laws. “The federal government cannot allow a continuation of the white supremacy that has led to so many problems for so many Americans, and in particular, communities of color, all throughout the country.”
Mr. Casey described the political stakes of the debate later in an interview.
“What we have to do is to make sure that we make it very clear that our side is trying to protect the right to vote. The other side has blocked it,” he said.
After House Republicans voted against the similar elections bill, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the GOP had “voted to continue to allow states to restrict access to the ballot box, especially for voters of color, low-income voters, seniors, servicemembers, and voters with disabilities.”
Details of the compromise bill have not been released. But they are expected to be aimed at laws passed by Republican legislators in 18 states in the wake of allegations that Democrats stole last year’s elections.
Saying the new laws are needed to preserve the integrity of elections, Republican legislatures in states such as Georgia and Texas have tightened the rules, requiring such things as showing a picture ID or a special state voting ID to cast ballots.
Republicans have said the states are not targeting minorities. And they say the Democrats in Congress are trying to nationalize elections.
“What this is really about is an effort for the federal government to take over the way we conduct elections in this country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this year.
While the laws do not rise to the level of the Jim Crow laws that barred Blacks and minorities from voting, critics say requirements like producing picture IDs disproportionately make it more difficult for minorities to vote, because they are less likely to have the identification.
Under the bill passed by the House, the federal government would override the state laws with new federal requirements like requiring voters only provide the last four digits of their Social Security number instead of an ID.
Mr. Manchin proposed a compromise that would, among other things, require states to check identification but said voters could provide other documents instead of picture ID, such as a utility bill.