Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On Republican Voter Suppression Laws And The Need To Pass Legislation To Defend Our Democracy And Protect The Right To Vote

January 11, 2022

As I begin my remarks, let me begin with the following figure: fifty-five million people.

That is the estimated number of eligible voters that now live within states that have passed legislation restricting the right to vote and potentially undermine the electoral process.

Today, President Biden will travel to one such state—Georgia—home to one of the most egregious voter suppression and election subversion laws we have seen in a long time. I believe the president will give a strong speech and will urge that we in the Senate change the rules so that we can prevent these awful and nasty laws from being implemented.

In an address to the nation, he will use the bully pulpit of the presidency to make the case that the time has come for the Senate to pass voting rights legislation—and take whatever steps necessary to address this chamber’s rules in order to accomplish that goal.

The Senate is going to act—as soon as tomorrow, it is my intention to once again bring legislation to the floor to fight back against the threats to democracy and protect people’s access to the ballot. Once again, I urge my Republican colleagues to take up the flag of the traditional Republican party—not only of Lincoln but of Reagan and H.W. Bush and W. Bush and—vote yes to move forward so we can have a debate like the debate we just had, or discussion we just had.

But if Republicans continue to hijack the rules of the Senate to prevent voting rights from happening, if they continue paralyzing this chamber to the point where we’re helpless to fight back against the Big Lie, we must consider the necessary steps we can take so the Senate can adapt and act.

For the past few months, Senate Democrats have been holding talks within our caucus to discern how we can best move forward to restore the function of the Senate and more importantly pass legislation to defend democracy and protect voting rights.

Last night I held another round of talks with a number of my colleagues about the path forward, and we did so again this morning.

Over the past few days, our Republican colleagues have escalated their attacks against our efforts to pass voting rights legislation.

Listen to this one: last night the Republican Leader worked to place a number of “gotcha” bills onto the legislative calendar as some sort of payback for pursuing legislation to protect the sacred right to vote. He was basically saying: here are 18 bills that Democrats don't like; let's go for 50 votes on those.

Well, I proposed to the Republican Leader, in a Unanimous Consent request, that it would be perfectly fine with us taking votes on his bills on a simple majority threshold, if in exchange he agreed to do the same for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Of course the Republican Leader immediately objected, immediately objected to having all of them done with 50 votes, the 18 bills he proposed and our two voting rights bills.

The Republican Leader made clear last night that the true worry on the other side isn’t about the rules of the Senate—rules they were perfectly happy to change to pursue their own objectives when they were in the majority.

Republicans in truth are afraid of the possibility that legislation to defend democracy, to fight the power of dark money, and protect voting rights could move forward in this chamber.

And as I mentioned to my colleague from Texas, that's not all Republicans. That's not Republicans out in the country. A lot of them want to protect voting rights. But it's the Republican party as now run by – and it's fair to say run by – Donald Trump, who has promulgated the Big Lie, that the election was stolen, that he really won, even though he lost by seven million votes and even though he has no evidence, nor have the commentators [any evidence], in that effect.

And now we have at least Republicans in the Senate and the House and in lots of state legislatures completely going along with this Big Lie. And the danger there is that it jaundices our democracy. If people of color, if young people, if older people, if people in urban areas feel that their right to vote is being diminished compared to other people – because they're not aiming this at everybody – democracy begins to wither. We've not seen an assault on voting rights since the days of the Old South, since the 40s and 50s and 60s and 70s. Why would we want to regress? Why would we want to regress? So we must fight back.

Now I understand that Republicans are going to continue their opposition through a flurry of speeches decrying any effort by Democrats to undo these voter suppression laws and make it easier for Americans to vote.

And by the way, again, I remind my colleagues: that’s been the grand tradition of America. When the constitution was written, in most states you had to be a white, male, protestant, property owner to vote. No one says let’s go back to these days.

And in general, in America, with our march to freedom, and our march to equality embodied in our Constitution and in mind of our Founding Fathers, the greatest groups of geniuses ever assembled, have marched forward. There have been regressions, but they marched forward. We Democrats want to continue that march. We want to stop these kinds of laws.

So the Republican Leader doesn’t have much to say. So he’s latched on to the talking point and he said the Big Lie is actually the warnings of voter suppression that come from democrats, even though there are so many laws that are obviously done to suppress votes and a lot of these Republican legislators say it openly.

So I say to the Republican Leader, his attempts to misdirect from the dangers of Donald Trump’s Big Lie—and try to say it’s Democrats who are doing it—are gas lighting, pure and simple. No evidence, no evidence.

The Leader did it again yesterday and today here on the floor, implying one more time that, because the 2020 election was indeed successful, somehow voter suppression simply doesn’t exist. Now I answered my friend from Texas when he held up that chart. The Republican leader cherry-picked examples to distract from the real, unmistakable changes that are taking place in the states.

And I would ask the Republican Leader, the Republican Senator from Texas and every other Republican: if the 2020 was as successful, as secure, and as safe as he says it was, then why have Republican state legislatures rushed to make it harder for people to vote in the aftermath of the 2020 election? And why can any Republican cling to the view that election was stolen, Donald Trump’s Big Lie, when Senator John Cornyn, my friend from Texas, is up there with a chart saying the 2020 election was successful and the Republican leader said the same thing?

Doesn’t that rebut Donald Trump? Doesn’t that rebut those who came to the Capitol, motivated by Donald Trump’s propagation of the big lie? Doesn’t it rebut all of the state legislators who want to make it harder to vote if the 2020 election was successful?

Despite the Republican Leader’s best efforts, I have yet to hear from my Republican colleagues why its ok for states like Georgia to make it a crime to give food and water to people waiting in line at the polls when we hear in minority areas and urban areas where the lines are much longer than the rural areas?

I have yet to hear from Republicans why states like Texas and Arizona have made it a felony, a felony, for non-partisan election workers to send unsolicited mail ballot applications to voters. What’s wrong with sending that? What’s wrong with encouraging people to vote? The participation in election is much higher in many Western countries than ours.

Again, Texas did not merely prohibit non-election workers to send mail ballots to out to voters—they made it a felony. These states have effectively made it a crime for election workers to proactively help people make it easier to vote. Where is the justification? Where’s this evidence of massive fraud Donald Trump talks about? No one gives any. And yet they predicated their policy moves here at the Senate on that.

And to date I’ve heard no explanation from the other side for why states like Texas, Iowa, and Montana have reduced polling locations and hours. In Iowa, early voting of any kind has been cut by nine days. How does that make the election more secure? Why is that in grand tradition to make it easier for Americans to vote?

In Georgia, according to the Atlanta Constitution Journal, the leading newspaper in Atlanta, the number of absentee drop boxes in the four large counties in the Atlanta area will drop from 111 to about 23. 111 to about 23. One of the justifications is that these boxes are no longer helpful, but this ignores the fact that over 300,000 voters—used them in the last election, the last successful election, according to my friend from Texas.

Republicans know that most of the people who used those boxes are Democrats. They tend to use them more and that’s why they cut them off.

The examples go on and on, unfortunately. This is just not the one-off, or one state or other. This is a massive campaign, which if we do nothing will continue and get worse. 

States like Texas, Florida, Kansas, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Montana have passed laws making it harder, harder to register to vote.

States like Alabama, Iowa, and Texas have passed laws that increase the potential barriers for people with disabilities.

And again in Georgia, one rural county—Lincoln County—is trying to limit their polling locations down to just one in the whole county. Just one place to vote, for an entire county, causing people to potentially drive as many as 23 miles just to cast a ballot. This wouldn’t make voting easier, it turns it into a burden.

The truth is our Republicans cannot defend these laws.

They're not going to mention them here today. Let's hear some Republicans defend these laws and point to evidence of the massive fraud that they say motivates them to do it. It's bunk, bunk.

The policies have one purpose and one purpose only: making it harder for younger, poorer, non-white, and typically Democratic voters to access the ballot. To give Republicans a partisan advantage at the polls by making it harder for Democratic-leaning voters to vote.

Again, in a democracy when you lose in an election, you’re supposed to figure out why and try to win over the voters you lost. You don’t stop the voters you lost from voting. That’s what happens in autocracies. Places in Hungary where Donald Trump just endorsed Orbán who is whittling away at democracy in Hungary.

It is cynical, cynical for our Republican colleagues to argue that just because these voter suppression laws don’t spell out their intentions out in the open that there is nothing sinister at play.

But these laws have real impact. Potentially decisive.

In Arizona, the Secretary of State has concluded that new laws could purge as many as 200,000 voters from their early voting list. And as you know better than me, Arizona has a long tradition of early and mail voting. I think was set up by Republicans if I’m not wrong.  

In Georgia, over 1.3 million voters used absentee ballots in the last election and could be affected by restriction.

Senate Democrats in Iowa argue that if today’s voter suppression laws had been in effect in 2020, as many as 6,500 absentee ballots would not have counted in the last election.

This isn’t all that difficult to comprehend: when you pass laws that raise barriers to voting, fewer people end up voting. That is a fact.

So as the President will say later, we are approaching a decisive moment for the country.

Voting rights, defending democracy have long been a bipartisan issues in this chamber. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 is one of the crowning achievements not only of the Civil Rights era but in the history of this chamber. It is in no way a power grab to say this Senate will pass laws that will make it easier, simpler, and safer for American citizens to exercise their most fundamental right. That's been part of the grand tradition of this country, usually, as I mentioned several times before. Bipartisan.

I will add: as we proceed, we cannot hang our hats on the false hopes of inadequate solutions.

Substituting the Electoral Count Act for the much-needed reforms that we have in the Freedom to Vote and John Lewis Voting Rights Act is insufficient, unacceptably.

Obviously it doesn't affect the House and Senate. Obviously it is not immediately urgent because it affects 2024.

But most importantly, score keeping matters little if the game is rigged, and the game is in danger of being rigged if state Republicans empower themselves to arbitrate the results of future elections, instead of it being arbitrated by what traditionally has happened in America, by non-partisan election workers.

So we need to work in this chamber to pass real solutions that go to the heart of the problem: we need to proceed with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We need to proceed with the Freedom to Vote Act.

All of us in this chamber must make a choice about how we will do our part to preserve our democratic republic. We can’t be satisfied in thinking that democracy will win out in the end if we are not willing to put work in to defend it.

So we need to pass these bills so our democracy can long endure after this present danger. To continue blocking these efforts is to offer an implicit endorsement of Donald Trump’s Big Lie, which unfortunately is alive and well in 2022.