TRANSCRIPT: At A Press Conference, Majority Leader Schumer Delivers Remarks On The Urgent Need For The Senate To Pass Voting Rights And Safeguard Democracy

January 18, 2022

Washington, D.C.   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today delivered remarks at a press conference with other Senate Democrats to discuss how the Senate will move forward on voting rights and stated that if Senate Republicans again filibuster voting rights, the Senate must reform its rules. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks:

This is the very first time today that Congress has been debating a bill to protect voting rights on the Senate floor, on the Freedom to Vote Act, and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

And win, lose or draw, members of this chamber were elected to debate and to vote. And win, lose or draw, we are going to vote – especially on an issue as vital to the beating heart of our democracy as voting rights.

Democrats have tried for months to hold a voting rights debate on the floor, but we've been blocked each time by Republicans. This is a step forward, but there's still a lot of work to do.

Now, as we debate these measures, the Senate is going to confront a critical question: shall the members of this chamber do what is necessary to pass these bills and move them to the President's desk?

The struggle for voting rights is one of the sagas in America. In 1789, in most states, you had to be a white male Protestant property owner to vote. That might leave out most of the people here. We have had an inexorable push for the right to vote. The right to vote is vital. And both the proponents and opponents know it. I'm reading the biography of Grant. The white southerners – the number one thing they wanted to prevent the freed slaves from doing is voting, above anything else, because they knew it was power. And we've had steps forward. And then we've had steps back. And unfortunately, right now, with the Republican legislatures, we are in the midst of a large step back.

So Senate Democrats are going to fight the fight. Fight the fight. We're under no illusion; we know this is an uphill fight, especially when virtually every Senate Republican, to their shame, is staunchly against any legislation to protect the right to vote. But I want to be clear –  when this chamber confronts the question this important, one so vital to our country, to our democracy, with its long history – you don't just say never mind, it's too hard. You keep pushing. You keep working. You keep fighting. And that's what we've been doing. That's what we are doing and that's what we will continue to do.

It's been a long, hard road to get to this point. All the members here and many others – because this has been such strong strength in our caucus, unity in our caucus – have worked hard on these bills. The Senate spent an entire year drafting, considering, and debating voting rights legislation. Senate Republicans have spent the same amount of time refusing to negotiate with our members, including Senator Manchin, or even debate this legislation.

Over the past year, as you know, Republican-controlled legislatures have worked to pass legislation that would make it harder for Americans to vote, following the President's Big Lie. And it's particularly aimed at people of color, at poor people, at young people, at disabled people, at elderly people, at people who live in cities. It's not aimed across the board. You know that and we know that. It's an effort. It's an effort to jaundice the entire election process.

If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the Senate rules must be reformed. Must be reformed. If the Republicans block cloture on the legislation before us, I will put forward a proposal to change the rules to allow for a talking filibuster on this legislation, as recommended by a number of our colleagues who have been working on this reform for a long time.

Historically, changes to the Senate rules have been necessary to adapt to changed circumstances. Even Senator Byrd, a traditionalist, said just that. To address voting rights in a timely fashion, there's an opportunity to do exactly that, to change the Senate rules to promote a public debate that is restorative of the Senate's long standing two speech limit.

We feel very simply: on something as important as voting rights, if Senate Republicans are going to oppose it, they should not be allowed to sit in their office. They’ve got to come down on the floor and defend their opposition to voting rights, the wellspring of our democracy. There's broad, strong feeling in our caucus about that.

Once members of the minority party have exhausted all of their speaking rights and defended their position on the Senate floor, the debate will have run its course and the Senate will move to vote on final passage at a majority threshold, which has always been the threshold for final passage.

I hope every Senator will embrace this practical reform. Dr. King said to us, “keep fighting.” They tried to pass voting rights bills year after year after year. 1964? They couldn't get it. They kept fighting and they got it in ‘65. This process today is another step forward in the march to voting rights. We ain't given up. You're going to hear from us plenty as we continue on this issue.

And again, to anyone who says oh, well, you may not win, don't do it. Look at history. Look at history. If you keep fighting the cause of justice, as Dr. King has said, we will be renewed. He used to quote Amos. Let justice flow down like the mighty waters. The mighty waters will flow down. You can't stop them. They can be diverted. They can be delayed. But if you keep fighting, they can't be stopped and we are not stopping. We are not stopping. This is too important. This is sacred. This is vital. This is not just a political fight, which some people like to just talk about. It is a fight for the soul and the future of America. And we are strong, dedicated, and enthusiastic to continue that fight.