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Mark Kelly backs rules change to pass voting rights legislation

By Lauren Fox, CNN

Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat facing reelection in Arizona, announced he will back a rules change to pass voting rights legislation, revealing a schism with his fellow Arizonan, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has remained steadfast in her opposition to such a change.

In a lengthy statement, Kelly wrote that “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.”

“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 wrote.

The announcement comes as Democrats are scheduled to vote Wednesday night to advance voting rights legislation that includes major components of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. The legislation is expected to fail because it does not have 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster. But, Democrats are also expected to move Wednesday on a rules change that would allow Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority. That too doesn’t have the votes to pass because of opposition from Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia.

Kelly was not the only vulnerable Democrat up for reelection to support the rules change. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire both indicated that they support changing the Senate rules along party lines Wednesday.

“The majority of Americans support these critical protections, and I continue to support efforts to reform the filibuster so these bills can pass with a majority vote in the Senate,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

A Hassan spokesperson told CNN that her boss will vote to change the rules, meaning there will likely be 48 votes to support changing the rules.

In his statement, Kelly cited how “my year in the Senate has shown me how dysfunctional this place can be, and how that prevents progress on issues that matter to Arizonans.”

“We’re seeing that now, as voting rights legislation remains blocked while partisan politicians work to undermine Arizona’s successful vote-by-mail system and create more barriers to vote,” Kelly said.

Wednesday’s vote will mark a pivotal moment in Democrats’ months-long push to advance voting rights, an issue that even President Joe Biden has argued is so crucial to the future of Democracy that it warrants a change in Senate rules. Biden made a trip to Capitol Hill last week to make his pitch in person, but it did little to sway Manchin and Sinema.

Republicans sharply criticized Kelly, whose 2022 reelection race could determine which party controls the Senate. They said his move undercut his self-proclaimed image as a former NASA astronaut who promised to be “an independent voice” for Arizona.

Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said that Kelly “may be a one-term senator” because of his newly announced support to eliminate the filibuster, adding that “there’s going to be a big contrast” between the two Arizona Democratic senators. Sinema supports keeping the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for most legislation, arguing that the filibuster encourages Democrats and Republicans to work together.

Joanna Duka, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General and Senate Republican candidate Mark Brnovich, called Kelly a pawn for the Senate majority leader and House speaker.

“Senator Mark Kelly would rather federalize Arizona’s elections than stand up to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi,” Duka said.

This story has been updated with additional reporting Wednesday.

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CNN’s Manu Raju and Alex Rogers contributed to this report.

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