‘Eye of Nation Watching’ as Voting Rights Bill Appears Headed for Defeat
WASHINGTON — With the defeat of sweeping voting rights legislation all but certain in the Senate this week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed a different goal as he opened the chamber’s session on Tuesday, forcing all senators to go on the record about where they stand on the issue.
“The eyes of the nation will be watching what happens this week in the United States Senate,” Schumer said.
Schumer noted that the Democrats have been trying for months to hold a voting rights debate on the floor, only to be rebuffed time and again by Republicans.
In all, the Democrats have brought a voting rights package to the Senate floor four times over the past six months, and only once did a Republican — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska — vote in favor of even beginning a debate on it.
“On all three other votes, not a single Republican joined us. Every one of them voted to block even a debate on voting rights,” he said.
However, it’s not Republican opposition alone that is stymying ratification of this top priority of the White House and congressional Democrats, it’s the failure of the president and others to convince two Democratic holdouts to support a change to the chamber’s filibuster rules.
Without the support of Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to change the rule, there’s just no way to overcome Republican opposition to a bill intended to overturn new voting rights restrictions passed in GOP-led states since the 2020 elections.
Both, however, say they support the voting rights bill.
The best Democrats can do this week is use another arcane rule to at least begin debate on the bill.
As for that bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act combines two earlier bills already passed in the House into one package.
In addition to making mail-in ballots and same-day voter registration available in all 50 states, the bill ensures access to early voting, protects voters and poll workers from partisan interference, and would make Election Day a national holiday.
On Tuesday, the Senate launched what is expected to be a weeklong debate, using the vehicle of a “message” from the House regarding the bill to set up the debate.
Schumer called this “a step, but an important step moving forward in that we will finally debate this one issue that is so central to the American people, to our history and to our democracy.”
“As we debate these measures, the Senate will confront a critical question: Shall the members of this chamber do what is necessary to pass these bills and bring them closer to the president’s desk?” he said.
“Much has been said over the past few days about the prospects of passing voting rights legislation in this chamber,” Schumer continued. “Senate Democrats are under no illusion that we face difficult odds, especially when virtually every Senate Republican — virtually every Senate Republican — is staunchly against legislation protecting the right to vote.
“But I want to be clear: When this chamber confronts a question this important — one so vital to our country, so vital to our ideals, so vital to the future of our democracy — you don’t slide it off the table and say ‘never mind.’
“Win, lose or draw, members of this chamber were elected to debate and to vote, especially on an issue as vital to the beating heart of our democracy as voting rights. And the public is entitled to know where each senator stands on an issue as sacrosanct as defending our democracy,” Schumer said. “The American people deserve to see their senators go on record on whether they will support these bills or oppose them. Indeed, that may be the only way to make progress on this issue now: for the public to see where each of us in this chamber stands.”
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