A Senate panel deadlocked on a Democratic bill to set federal standards on voting access, with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell leading a day-long effort to thwart legislation he called a partisan power-grab.
After hours of debate on amendments, the Senate Rules Committee tied 9-9 along party lines late Tuesday on a vote to advance the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would have to force a vote of the full Senate to bring it to the floor, but its unclear that he’ll have the support necessary with some Democrats expressing reservations about the bill.
“This is not the last you will hear, in fact this is the beginning as Senator Schumer will under his rights be able to bring the bill to the floor,” Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said after the vote.
The bill, S. 1, is a high priority for Democrats in the face of efforts by Republican-dominated state legislatures -- spurred in part by former President Donald Trump’s false claims about fraud in the 2020 election -- to enact ballot restrictions.
As an indication of the stakes, both Schumer and McConnell made appearances at the hearing. Both are members of the Rules Committee but as leaders of their parties in the Senate, they rarely take part in panel debates.
“Let’s call it what it is,” McConnell said at the hearing. “Put aside the flowery language. This is a partisan effort to take over how you do -- how you conduct elections in our country.”
The legislation would set national standards for election laws, including no-excuse mail-in voting and automatic voter registration, require additional campaign finance disclosures and impose new ethics provisions for all three branches of federal government, among other changes.
Since the November election, more than 360 bills in at least 47 states have been introduced to restrict voting access according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank.
“Here in the 21st century we are witnessing an attempt at the greatest contraction of voting rights since the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow,” Schumer said. “All across the country, Republicans no longer want to let the voters pick their politicians. They want to let politicians pick their voters.”
Schumer said that he would put S.1 on the Senate floor, though he hasn’t set a schedule for doing so. With Republicans uniformly opposed and some Democrats raising concerns about the sweep of the legislation, it faces long odds in the chamber. The Democratic-controlled House has already passed its version of the bill.
“This bill will go to the floor, we will see where the votes are, and go from there,” Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the lead sponsor to the legislation, said.
Supporters of the legislation, called the For the People Act, are pressing to use the bill as a spark for Democrats to do away with the Senate’s filibuster rule, which allows the minority party to block most legislation by requiring a 60 votes to allow debate to go forward. But Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they oppose getting rid of the rule.
The filibuster has been used in the Senate before to delay legislation on voting and civil rights measures. The procedural hurdle was used to delay votes on the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other measures.
“The way the filibuster is used to block civil rights bills is an ever present reminder that our country cares more about a Jim Crow relic than about people who look like me,” said Mondale Robinson, founder of the Black Male Voter Project, an organization that works to get more Black men to vote. “Congress must make no mistake: White supremacy is the filibuster’s past, present and future.”
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