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Senate to Vote on Voting Rights Bill Wednesday, Despite Filibuster Threat

October 19, 2021 by Dan McCue
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats are moving ahead with plans to vote on the Freedom to Vote Act Wednesday, despite Republicans’ vow to block the bill.

The bill, a slimmed down version of the For the People Act, a sweeping elections overhaul passed in the House earlier this year, would, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., “set basic standards to improve ballot access across the country, end partisan gerrymandering, and fight the influence of dark money and special interests in our politics.”

Among other things, it would make Election Day a public holiday, ensure there’s early voting in federal elections and would allow all voters to request mail-in ballots.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate Tuesday morning, Schumer said every Democrat in the chamber has gone on record as supporting the bill, and he made a point of thanking Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who he said, “spent weeks reaching out to our Republican colleagues in an effort to find common ground.

“I applaud him for his commitment to trying to get something done on this issue in a bipartisan way if we can,” Schumer said.

At present, that appears unlikely to happen as not a single Republican has spoken up in support of the bill.

As a result, anticipation of the vote is once again stoking talk of doing away with the filibuster, which would allow the Democrats to pass the legislation — and other critical bills in the Senate pipeline — by a simple majority vote.

Despite supporting the Freedom to Vote Act, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., say they want the filibuster to remain, meaning without flipping 10 Republicans, the bill will go nowhere.

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said nothing to indicate he’s changed his mind since September when he told Politico the bill was an example of Democrats creating “a solution in search of a problem.”

“This is not something that the federal government has been historically involved in for good reason,” he added at the time.

Still, that’s not stopping Democrats from trying.

On Tuesday, the White House confirmed President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had spoken to a number of Democratic senators about what the administration said is a “must-pass priority” to “protect Americans’ constitutional rights from the systematic assault that Republicans have been mounting in state legislatures across the country.”

“The administration is continuing to press for voting rights legislation to safeguard our democracy from these historic threats to constitutional freedoms and the integrity of elections through legislation, executive actions, outreach, the bully pulpit, and all other means available,” the White House said.

On Monday, a group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, sent a letter to their Senate colleagues urging them to continue to stand together and vote for the bill.

“America is strongest when our democratic institutions are strong, when they reflect and project the confidence of our people,” the letter said.

“The Freedom to Vote Act can fortify our democracy and bring Americans of all political stripes back into the town square, where the vitality of our ideas and experiences can be shared with respect, dynamism and hope for the future,” it continued.

The bill was also endorsed Monday by Michael Sozan, a senior fellow at Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy think tank.

“The Freedom to Vote Act is deeply popular with Americans of all political stripes who know the importance of protecting our elections and strengthening the right to vote,” Sozan said in a written statement. 

“Once again, Sen. Schumer is attempting to begin debate on this legislation at a time when our democracy is under assault. Americans are repeatedly bombarded with lies about election fraud, while 17 state legislatures have passed new laws aimed at suppressing voters of color or sabotaging valid election results,” he continued.

“If Senate Republicans again filibuster voting rights legislation, the Senate should immediately take action to ensure that arcane filibuster rules do not prevent this legislation from being debated and passed,” Sozan said.

But first, the Senate has to vote in favor of even beginning a debate on the voting rights bill, itself not a certainty.

“That’s what tomorrow’s vote is about,” Sen. Schumer said. “Do the members of this chamber think protecting our Democracy is worthy of even a debate in the Senate? Senate Democrats think it absolutely is. 

“If our Republican colleagues don’t like our ideas for fighting voter suppression and guarding against election subversion, then they ought to tell us what they have in mind,” he continued, adding, “If they’re so confident in their position, then let’s debate the issue on the Senate floor. What’s there to be afraid of by allowing simply a debate?”

Despite his challenging tone, Schumer went on to say Democrats are ready to work with Republicans in good faith if they vote to begin a debate on voting rights. 

“We know disagreements run deep and we don’t hide from that, but if our Republican colleagues have good ideas, we’ll work with them. We’ll listen to them. And if these ideas are truly aligned with the goals of this bill to protect our democracy—we’ll work to include them in the final text,” he said.

“But what Republicans should not do—what they must not do—is squelch any chance for the Senate to debate something as critical and sacrosanct as the right to vote,” he said.

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