Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On The Urgent Need To Pass Legislation That Will Defend Our Democracy And Protect The Right To Vote

January 13, 2022

Washington, D.C.   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the urgent need to pass voting rights legislation that will defend our democracy and protect the right to vote. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Before I begin my remarks, I see my dear friend, the president, sitting there—the Senator from Nevada—and I'm thinking last night, as we watched Harry Reid leave the Senate for the final time: Harry, we miss you, but we know you're still here to guide us. Thank you.

Over the next few days, the United States Senate will face a critical and unavoidable question: are its members going act to protect our democracy and protect voting rights, or will its members choose the path of obstruction, inaction, and side with the Big Lie overtaking our precious experiment in self-rule?

We had two professors come to us two days ago. The authors of "How Democracies Die" and one of the main ways that democracies die is when one political party refuses to accept the results of an election that was run freely and fairly. That's what's happening here. They showed how important this is and how there is unfortunate historical precedent in doing what we did.

And earlier this week, President Biden made that clear. He made clear to the nation—and to all of us who serve in the Senate—that the time to answer the question about whether allowing the Big Lie, so ruinous to a democracy to overtake our precious experiment in self-rule, will prevail.

As the Senate has done many times in its history, it must soon act again to safeguard democracy from the dangers of the present day: the power of dark money, voter suppression, and efforts to subvert the democratic process from the bottom up.

I commend President Biden for offering a strong speech, and I look forward to having him join Senate Democrats later today at our caucus meeting to discuss the path forward.

Yesterday, I shared with my Democratic Colleagues our plan for what the next few days are going to look like in this chamber, and how I as Majority Leader will move to finally begin—at last—a floor debate on the voting rights legislation.

Later today, the House of Representatives will pass a message that will include the language of the two bills Republicans have filibustered for months: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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.

Then the Senate will finally hold a debate on voting rights legislation for the first time in this Congress, and every Senator will be faced with a choice of whether or not to pass this legislation to protect our democracy.

There has been a lot of gas-lighting here on the floor lately from the other side about power grabs, about take-overs, but precious little in terms of substance. I've not heard them mention what Republican legislatures are doing. That's not the thrust of their speeches. They say oh, it's a power grab; oh, it's a takeover.

Well, my friends, if there was ever a power grab, it’s what is happening in the state legislatures right now, where Republican legislators are taking away people’s sacred right to vote, and aiming it particularly at certain groups: people of color, young people, people in urban areas, older people, disabled people.

So let me remind my colleagues what these bills actually do:

The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are balanced, effective, and common-sense bills that build on the work that this chamber has done in the past to protect our democracy, and it was often done with bipartisan votes. The transformation of the Republican party in the era of Donald Trump is apparent and nasty and, most importantly, real dangerous to our democracy.

These laws sets basic standards for all American citizens to vote safely and vote securely, while protecting elections from attempts at subversion. What is wrong with that? How is that a power grab, to allow people to vote? It's the people who should have the power, not politicians in state legislative bodies to take it away.

The bill also fights against the power of dark money that has cascaded into our system, and so much of it now being used to try and intimidate legislators, senators, congressmen, from preserving this right to vote.

And the bill ends partisan gerrymandering. We've all seen situations, like in the legislature of Wisconsin, the state assembly, where 53% of the people voted for democratic legislators in 2020, but only about a third of the seats are democratic due to the severe nature of this gerrymandering.

And so importantly, these bills restore the critical pre-clearance provisions that were once part of the Voting Rights Act that many of my Republican colleagues supported in the past, which a conservative majority on the Supreme Court shamefully gutted roughly a decade ago.

Democrats have tried for months—months—to convince our Republican colleagues to join us on a bipartisan basis to begin a debate on these bills, to no avail.

We presented these reasonable, commonsense proposals—as I said, many of which had been voted on by Republicans in the past. We presented them on the floor in June, August, October, and November.

Each time, I promised my Republican colleagues they would have opportunities to voice their concerns and offer germane amendments. I wouldn’t limit the germane amendments that they wish to offer.

We have lobbied Republicans privately and have tried to engage them in both the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Every step of the way, every step of the way, we have been met with near-total resistance. To date none of our efforts have produced any meaningful engagement from the other side of the aisle.                               

But members of this chamber were elected to debate and to vote, particularly on an issue as vital to the beating heart of our democracy as this.

I have said for months that just because Republicans have refused to work with us to protect voting rights does not mean Democrats would stop working to move forward on our own. The matter is simply too important—it is the wellspring of our democracy, the right by which all other rights are secured: voting.

I'm reading the biography of Grant by Chernow. The number one thing the southern segregationists, who happened to be Democrats at the time, wanted to take away from the newly-freed slaves was the right to vote. They knew that if black people didn't have the right to vote in the south, they'd have no power: no power over our laws, no power over where resources go, no power to decide the directions of the country. And that was the number one thing they wanted to prevent.

So it's so vital to keep people's right to vote, particularly when some of the laws, too many, are aimed at the people of color, reminding us that racism is a poison of America still.

So we will move forward. The path I have laid out sets up a process by which Senators can finally make clear to the American people where they stand on protecting our democracy.

Republicans will have a chance to show where they stand on preserving the right of every eligible citizen to cast a ballot.

Republicans will have a chance to make clear where they stand on fighting efforts to empower partisan actors to subvert the election process and create more big lies in the future.

Republicans will have a chance to make clear where they stand on fighting the power of dark money which so many Americans oppose, Democrats and Republicans.

And Republicans will have a chance to show where they stand on ending partisan gerrymandering.

Of course, to ultimately end debate and pass anything, we will also need 10 Republicans to join us ultimately on cloture.

If they don’t, we will be left with no choice but to consider changes to Senate rules so we can move forward, and changing Senate rules has been done many times before in this chamber. This is not the first, second or third time that this is happening.

All of us must make a choice about whether or not we will do our part to preserve our democratic republic in this day and age. We cannot be satisfied in thinking that democracy will win out in the end if we are not willing to put in the work, strength, and courage to defend it.

Last night, I read the op-ed published by President Obama that elegantly laid out what really is at stake here—I encourage all my colleagues to read it if they haven’t already. He reminded us that democracy is not a given. It is not self-executing. But it can indeed survive – and thrive – if we are prepared to follow in the footsteps of the great Americans who did their part to defend democracy before us. Many of them given their lives.

We now are being called upon to do our part, and I now ask unanimous consent that the Obama op-ed which I will bring to the desk shortly be placed in the records.

Finally, as we continue this important conversation about the future of our democracy, I ask my democratic colleagues to consider the following:

If the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?

Let me repeat that. If the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?

In the coming days, we will confront this sobering question.