Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., each testified before the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday to state their respective party's stance on Democrats' sprawling election and ethics bill.
During a markup hearing in the Russell Senate Office Building, Schumer and McConnell each accused the other's party of trying to weaponize voting laws to expand its political power, according to Politico.
"So, why are our friends on the other side so desperate to push it through?" McConnell said at the markup meeting Tuesday. "What are Democrats so hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to rewire our Democracy on a thoroughly partisan basis?"
Progressives have made the legislation a top priority, but the expansive proposal the committee took up faces significant pushback, from state election officials to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Manchin's vote is a must in a Senate split along party lines, though even with the senator's backing, the measure remains short of the 10 GOP votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
Schumer has vowed to take the bill to the Senate floor, but Senate Democrats and senior aides have agonized over the bill, with no clear path for it to become law.
Schumer used his time to say the bill is needed to combat state-level voting laws that "carry the stench of oppression."
"Are you going to stamp it out, or are you going to allow it to be spread?" Schumer said. "I plead with my Republicans, think twice. I plead with Leader McConnell: Think twice."
McConnell responded by saying Democrats wrote their elections bill in response to the results of the 2016 election. He added their "supposed rationales [for it] have changed constantly."
"Our democracy is not in crisis, and we're not going to let one party take over our democracy under the false pretense of saving it," McConnell said. "The Democratic Party wants to rewrite the ground rules of American politics for partisan benefit."
Tuesday's hearing was expected to last for hours as Republicans planned to offer more than 100 amendments.
Senate Democrats will hold another caucus meeting on the elections package Thursday.
Manchin and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus have urged shifting the bill's focus to voting rights only in the name of late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. The feeling is that would have a slightly higher chance of winning Republican support.
That bill, named after civil rights icon Lewis, would restore a requirement that certain states and jurisdictions get election changes pre-approved by either the Department of Justice or a Washington, D.C., court before they can take effect.
Many Democrats, however, believe attempting bipartisanship with voting rights legislation is an impossible ask.
The Democrats' current legislation would overhaul federal elections across the country. It would:
- Mandate in-person early voting in all states.
- Require states offer no-excuse absentee voting.
- Institute automatic and same-day voter registration across the country.
- Require most states to create independent redistricting commissions for future cycles.
Even some election administrators who support the intent of the bill have complained about its sweeping mandates, arguing some are impossible to overcome.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the Rules Committee, introduced an amendment to soothe of those concerns by pushing back some deadlines and broadly granting more flexibility to smaller counties.
The elections proposal was given the first designation in both chambers — S.1 in the Senate, and H.R. 1 in the House, where it passed on a near-party line vote in March.
President Joe Biden said he supports the legislation, calling for Congress to send it to his desk during his first joint address.
Georgia and Florida are among states that have passed new voting laws after former President Donald Trump claimed widespread fraud changed the outcome of the 2020 election.
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