MLK's Family Presses Manchin, Sinema on Voting Rights Legislation, Filibuster

The family of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. marked the holiday honoring the late civil rights leader by calling on the U.S. Senate to pass voting rights legislation—calling out Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema by name in public speeches.

"Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin, our future hinges on your decision and history will remember what choice you make," King's 13-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, said during a news conference in Washington, D.C. after the annual peace walk honoring her grandfather, who was assassinated in 1968.

The Senate, where Democrats have a razor-thin hold on control, is set to hold a vote on the legislation as soon as this week. Manchin and Sinema both say that they support the measures, which seek to update the Voting Rights Act and create new protections from restrictions on voting, but they don't support a push to side-step the filibuster to do so. Under the current rules, the legislation would need 60 votes to pass and there are not enough Republican senators on board to meet the threshold. Ending that rule, paving the way for passage just with the Democrats and allied independents, would need 50 votes.

"They think the real problem isn't that our rights are being stolen—they think the real problem is a disease of division that can be cured with some optimism and conversation," Martin Luther King III said at the D.C. event. "My father worked to bring people together ... But he knew that when someone is denying you your fundamental rights, conversation and optimism won't get you very far."

Yolanda Renee King addressed people too young to vote and called on them to mobilize and reach out to Sinema's and Manchin's offices.

"Our rights are on the line," she said. "This fight is personal for me—it's our future."

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the King family for the event. The U.S. House fast-tracked the voting rights legislation in a party-line vote last week, sending it to the Senate for a vote.

"If you really truly want to honor Dr. King, don't dishonor him by using a congressional custom as an excuse for not protecting our democracy," the California Democrat said.

U.S. President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill last week to meet with Senate Democrats and urge their support, but Manchin and Sinema were not convinced. He again met with the two conservative Democrats privately, getting no change in their position.

During a volunteer event at Martha's Table on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris stopped short of calling out the two senators by name.

"As I've said before, there are a hundred members of the United States Senate, and I'm not going to absolve any of them," she said.

Manchin's and Sinema's offices didn't immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment on the King family's remarks.

King family highlights voting rights legislation
Arndrea Waters King (R) and Martin Luther King III listen to their daughter Yolanda Renee King speak following the Peace Walk in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington, DC on January 17, 2022. MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images