Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks Calling For A Senate Rules Change To Protect Democracy And Pass Voting Rights Legislation

January 19, 2022

Washington, D.C.   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor to call for the Senate to make a one-time rules change to allow for the Senate to pass voting rights legislation. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks:

 “The denial of this sacred right [to vote] is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.”

A tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.

Those were the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a speech where he implored the federal government—and especially Congress—to take action on a simple request: “Give Us the Ballot.”

Today the American people are saying the same thing—give us the ballot. Let us not sink into the abyss of voter suppression. Give us the Ballot.

A few hours ago, this chamber—with the eyes of the nation upon it and with the evidence of voter suppression laid bare before it; with very little refutation from the other side, they don't discuss the issues going on in the states—took a vote to move to final passage on the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It received fifty votes, and with the Vice President we would have had a majority.

Unfortunately under the current rules of the Senate the door is closed to moving forward on these laws, so much part of the core values of our country.

But make no mistake: on voting rights, inaction is not an option. Inaction is not an option—and now the Senate must rise to the occasion.

The only way to achieve our goal of passing voting rights, ending dark money, and ending partisan gerrymandering is by changing the rules—because our colleagues from the other side of the aisle don’t want to join us in these noble endeavors.

This evening, we have proposed a modest, one-time change of Senate rules to establish a talking filibuster for this voting rights legislation.

It fundamentally says if you want to block something as sacred as voting rights, you must do it out in the open. You must debate it and show the American people where you stand. You can't sit in your office and block everything.

In short: every Senator will be allowed to speak twice on final passage of voting rights legislation. They can speak as long as they want—days if they can muster it.

But all other dilatory tactics—any dilatory amendments, motions, and points of order shall be deemed out of order, and any appeals shall be determined without debate.

After each member has had their say, it will be time to vote, and only fifty votes will be required for passage.

This is a very simple, limited proposal. And it applies to only to the voting rights bills before us today.

Now look, there is no denying that members of this body have divergent views about whether the filibuster in the 21st century is a good thing or a bad thing.

Some have argued that it actually helps bring us together, something I don’t agree with and which I have not seen evidence, as the eloquent statement by the Senator from Oregon has just shown.

But even for those who feel that the filibuster is a good thing and helps bring us together, I would ask this question: isn't protecting voting rights—the most fundamental wellspring of this democracy—more important than a rule in this chamber?

Let me say that again: even if you think the filibuster is a good thing, isn't protecting voting rights and preventing their diminution more important? Particularly when this rule was not always in existence and was not envisioned by the Founders?

That is the key question we should each ask ourselves.

To be clear: minority rights are a vital feature of this chamber. But the Senate was never envisioned to allow an absolute minority party veto – never.

In fact, the founders expressly rejected the inclusion of a supermajority requirement for the Senate. Hamilton called the idea “poison.”

If there’s anything undermining the spirit of the senate today, it’s frankly the way things work right now.

It’s time for the Senate to adapt to meet the challenge of the modern age. Robert Byrd himself recognized this truth that Senate rules must sometimes change.

And our proposal today is a limited, carefully-tailored step we can take to make the rules of the Senate achieve this body’s original purpose.

Finally, there are some who fear the consequences of passing this bill with no support from the other party. I would certainly prefer Republicans work with us on this issue, and voting rights has always been a bipartisan issue in the past.

But we must be honest: we have made many earnest efforts to draft and debate bipartisan legislation that deals with voter suppression, dark money, partisan gerrymandering. But those earnest efforts by many members of our caucus have come up with no takers.

The old GOP worked with Democrats on voting rights for decades. But unfortunately, that is not the case today.

In the words of the late Senator Wagner, whose seat I hold, delivered on this floor nearly eighty years ago: “Unity in a democracy is not achieved by side-stepping and ignoring such issues. That is false unity. That is only the illusion of unity. Unity in a democracy is the unity which is achieved by facing issues, by threshing out our differences, and by standing upon the decision of the majority.”

Again: unity in a democracy is not achieved by side-stepping issues. Fittingly, he spoke these words in the face of a filibuster on anti-poll tax legislation.

Tonight, let us side-step voting rights no more. The question before the Senate is how we will find a path forward on protecting our freedoms in this turbulent 21st century. The only choice to move forward on these vital issues is to change the rules in the modest way we have proposed.

My colleagues, my colleagues: history is watching us. Let us choose in favor of our democracy.

Let stand up and defend the precious right to vote.

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