Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today
spoke on the Senate floor regarding Republican opposition to beginning a debate
on voting rights and announcing his intention to bring the John Lewis Voting
Rights Advancement Act to the Senate floor as soon as next week. Below are
Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
Yesterday this chamber had an opportunity to begin debate on protecting the voting rights of American citizens. That right—essential to any democracy—is under attack in ways we have not seen in generations.
Despite the obvious danger, Senate Republicans crushed any opportunity this chamber had to even begin a debate on the Freedom to Vote Act. We didn’t ask Republicans to sign their names to any policy; we simply asked them to come to the table so the Senate can work as intended. And they refused.
Let there be no mistake, Senate Republicans blocking debate yesterday was their implicit endorsement of the horrid new voter suppression and election subversion laws passed in conservative states across the country. When they wouldn't debate, they said these horrid new laws that suppress voters – that subvert our elections – are okay.
It’s ludicrous – ludicrous – for Republicans to pretend that the federal government has no role to play in defense of our liberties. Of course it does! They should read the Constitution!
But despite Republican opposition, the fight to protect our democracy is far from over in the United States Senate. Voting rights are too precious, too fundamental to abandon because of obstruction from the minority.
As soon as next week, I am prepared to bring another proposal to the floor: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The Voting Rights Act has historically been bipartisan. But following the gutting of the law by recent Supreme Court rulings, the Voting Rights Act needs to be restored and the Senate ought to, at a minimum, be permitted to debate it.
The reflexive obstruction from Senate Republicans is not – is not – how the Senate is supposed to work.
Not long ago this chamber operated differently, in a way more befitting the world’s greatest deliberative body: debate, compromise, amend, and legislate—all with the purpose of helping the American people. Even when people’s views of how to do that differed, there was debate and amendment.
We need to restore that legacy. We need to work to restore the Senate as the world’s greatest deliberative body, so we can better serve the needs of our nation. Republicans blocking one bill after another even from consideration is not that.
And the fight to protect our fundamental liberties is as old as the country itself, and we can take note from the lessons of history. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the majorities in Congress passed transformative measures like the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution—and other civil rights bills—expanding liberty to tens of millions previously deprived of it.
These are some of the crowning achievements of this body. But if you were in Congress back then, that’s hardly how they were viewed by some at the time.
Back then, the minority party refused to provide even a single vote to pass these laws. Not even one. The minority condemned them as partisan tools of the angry, vengeful north. A power grab.
The minority refused to come to the table, so the majority was willing to act alone, act alone, to pass civil rights legislation.
It wasn’t partisan, it was patriotic. Their actions made our democracy stronger, and they were willing to do what was necessary, including going it alone to defend our freedoms. Today, we feel the same way.
The question now before the Senate is how we will find a path forward on protecting our freedoms in the 21st century.
The members of this chamber can take inspiration from great patriots of the past who put country over party. Or they can cross their arms and watch as our 240 year old experiment in democracy falls prey to the specters of authoritarian control.