Washington, D.C. – Senate
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding
today’s cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the Freedom to Vote Act,
legislation that would protect the right to vote and secure our democracy.
Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
Now, for over two hundred and forty years, the story of American democracy has been an inexorable march towards universal suffrage—towards the realization of that sacred principle that all citizens should have a voice in selecting their leaders.
The grand ideal had humble beginnings: at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, hardly one in ten Americans would have been even eligible to vote. If you were not white, not a landowner, not a male, and not a Protestant, chances were that Democracy did not apply to you. Chances were that you were cut out of the political process.
It took over two centuries of Americans marching, fighting, and dying for the promise of freedom to expand to our citizens regardless of race or gender or creed—the right to vote.
But for every two steps forward, sometimes there are those who try to pull us one step back. Unfortunately, we find ourselves today in the midst of such a struggle. Across the country, the Big Lie – the Big Lie – has spread like a cancer as many states across the nation have passed the most draconian restrictions against voting that we’ve seen in decades. If nothing is done, these laws will make it harder for millions of Americans to participate in their government.
If there’s anything worthy of the Senate’s attention—if there’s any issue that merits debate on this floor—it’s protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out.
That’s why this afternoon, the United States Senate will vote to begin debate on the Freedom to Vote Act.
The Freedom to Vote Act is a balanced, effective, and common-sense proposal that will fortify our democracy and protect Americans’ right to vote. It sets basic standards for all Americans to vote safely and securely, no matter what zip code they live in.
It adopts proven reforms that will protect voters from both parties, whether they live in blue states or red states or purple states.
It fights back against the power of dark money in politics and ends the toxic practice of partisan gerrymandering.
And all the while, it respects the rightful authority of states to carry out their elections.
At its core, the Freedom to Vote Act rests on a simple principle: Americans must be able to freely choose their leaders, and those leaders must be accountable to the people, not to well-heeled donors.
These are policies all Americans can get behind. When was the last time we heard Americans cheer about dark money in our elections? Or the pervasiveness of partisan gerrymandering? What sort of voter would willingly choose to make voting harder—arbitrarily harder—when it should be easy, safe, and secure?
The Freedom to Vote Act would provide long-overdue remedies for all these concerns.
Now, crafting this bill, as you know, was no easy feat. It took months of hard work, compromise, and gathering feedback from experts on sensible policies that have been proven to work. I want to thank all of my colleagues who dedicated their energies to making this moment possible.
And I want to especially thank Senator Manchin for his hard work over the past few weeks. He’s reached across the aisle to try and find a way for the Senate to do its work in a bipartisan fashion. I thank him for his commitment to finding bipartisanship on a subject that, by all accounts, should be bipartisan to its core and has been for much of our history.
Now, today’s vote is a cloture vote on a motion to proceed. It presents Senators with a simple question: should the Senate even debate—debate— voting rights? That’s what this is about: simply a debate, and an important one to be sure. No Republican is being asked to sign their names to this or that policy today. But they are being asked to come to the table and have a discussion and allow amendments.
I want to be clear: if Republicans join us in proceeding to this bill, I am prepared to hold a full-fledged debate worthy of the US Senate. The minority will have the chance to have their voices heard. This Senate has already voted on more amendments than in any year under former President Trump – and on this legislation, again, Republican Senators would be able to offer amendments. But for that to happen, we have to get on the bill today.
What we can’t accept is a situation where one side is calling for bipartisan debate and bipartisan cooperation while the other refuses to even engage in a dialogue. If our Republican colleagues don’t like our ideas they have a responsibility to present their own.
It’s ludicrous for any Republican to assert that the federal government has no role to play in safeguarding elections when state laws disenfranchise American citizens. I invite them to read the Constitution of the United States of America, which precisely empowers Congress to regulate the “times, places, and manners” of holding elections. I invite them to look at modern American history, when the Senate stepped into the breach numerous times when Jim Crow states sought to restrict the right to vote.
There is a long and hallowed tradition of the Senate, often in a bipartisan coalition, working to protect access to the franchise. And today, our colleagues should vote to begin debate for how we can add to that legacy.
But what Republicans should not do, what they must not do, is squelch any chance, any chance, for the Senate to debate something as critical, as sacrosanct, as American, as the right to vote. The clock is ticking on our chance to take meaningful action.
Our experiment in Democracy has been the greatest feat of self-rule in all of modern history. We cannot allow it to backslide here in the 21st century. Today we have the chance to begin debate on how we can prevent that from happening, but Republicans must join us in the debate and vote to allow debate to proceed.
I urge my colleagues to vote yes.