The House on Thursday passed a measure that will allow the Senate to begin debate on Democrats’ voting rights legislation, as President Biden headed to Capitol Hill to push his party to do all it can to adopt the measure.
The House measure, approved 220 to 203, contains a pair of voting rights bills — the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It will be transmitted to the Senate in a way that allows the chamber to begin the debate with a simple majority of members present, instead of the usual 60-vote threshold.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined the details of the plan in a memo to Senate Democrats on Wednesday. Once executed, it will put the Senate on track to debate voting rights for the first time this Congress.
Republicans have repeatedly used the filibuster over the past year to block a trio of voting rights-related bills.
“As permitted under the existing rules, we will have the ability to proceed to the legislation and debate it on a simple majority basis, something that’s been denied to us four times in the last several months because Republicans didn’t want to move forward,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Every senator will be faced with the choice of whether or not to pass this legislation to protect our democracy.”
Still, passage of any measure remains an uphill battle without the support of 10 Republicans, or a change of heart from moderate Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to reform the filibuster.
That reality means the party that won full control of Washington after the 2020 election may essentially be powerless to combat restrictive local laws that were erected in GOP-led states over the past year.
President Obama urged the Senate in a USA Today editorial “to do the right thing,” a sign of how important Democrats believe the voting rights bills are to their future.
Biden was expected to deliver the same message during his afternoon meeting with Democrats.
Ahead of the president’s visit, a quartet of House Democratic leaders sought to put additional pressure on their Senate colleagues to support a filibuster carveout to allow Congress to enact new laws to counteract what Democrats have said is a coordinated effort among Republican-led state legislatures to suppress the votes of people of color, young people, the elderly and people with disabilities.
“The reality is our democracy doesn’t survive without this,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters.
“It is really important that we do everything we can to have the debate because it hasn’t even been debated,” Jayapal said. “Republicans haven’t been forced into a conversation about why they would be opposing voting rights at this critical juncture.”
In his floor remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “Nobody in this country is buying the fake hysteria that democracy will die.” He cited polling he said shows voters are significantly more concerned with other issues.
“There’s a path forward for my Democratic colleagues to respond to the country they have so badly disappointed, but it isn’t to try to break the Senate and rewrite election laws,” McConnell added. “It’s to actually start tackling the issues that American families need tackled.”
Though Democrats acknowledge they may lack the votes to pass the bills or change the rules, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said in an interview that holding a vote was critical.
“We have to vote because that’s what senators are here to do: to vote,” said Warnock, who is up for reelection this year. “This is a moral moment, and the question of this moment is: Where do you stand on voting rights? Do you think that Senate procedures, which have changed over time, are more important than people’s ability to have a voice in their own democracy? Everybody needs to be heard on that — Democrats and Republicans.”
Republicans have also warned that Democrats will come to regret any rules change because power in the Senate will inevitably shift. In an interview, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) argued that it’s worth the risk.
“Democracy is democracy. You win sometimes and you lose sometimes,” he said. “It’s already hard enough to enact significant policy change.”
He added that Republican or Democrat, parties with a government trifecta should be able to enact their agenda.
“Remember,” he continued, “just because you have majorities doesn’t make it easy to enact your agenda. Look how hard it is to pass Build Back Better. Look how hard it was for Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
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