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Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On Republicans Blocking Senate Consideration Of The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

Washington, D.C. –  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor after Senate Republicans voted to block consideration of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks:

This is a low, low point in the history of this body.

A few moments ago, Senate Republicans—for the fourth time this year—were presented with a simple question: will they vote in favor of starting debate—merely a debate—on protecting voting rights in this country? In today’s case, would they join Democrats in proceeding to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reinstate long-standing, widely-embraced federal protections on the right to vote?

With just one exception, Republicans once again obstructed the Senate from beginning its process. Given the chance to debate in what is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, Republicans walked away.

Today’s obstruction was only the latest in a series of disturbing turns for the Republican Party. For over a half-century, the policies of the Voting Rights Act have commanded bipartisan support in this chamber; it has been reauthorized five times, including by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. Many of my Republican colleagues in office today have worked in the past to improve and approve preclearance provisions similar to the ones contained in today’s proposal.

It was good enough for Republicans back then. It should have been good enough for them today.

But after today’s vote, it is clear that the modern Republican Party has turned its back on protecting voting rights – the party of Lincoln is becoming the party of the Big Lie.

Democrats have laid out the facts for months: we are witnessing – at the state level – the greatest assault on voting rights since the era of segregation. Before our very eyes, the heirs of Jim Crow are weakening the foundations of our democracy.

And by blocking debate today, Senate Republicans are implicitly endorsing these partisan Republican actions to suppress the vote and unravel our democracy.

We have said all year long that if there’s anything worth the Senate’s attention, it’s protecting our democracy.

We’ve tried for months to get Republicans to agree.

We have lobbied Republicans privately; we have gone through regular order; we have attempted to debate them on the floor.

We have presented reasonable, commonsense proposals in June, August, October, and now in November. Each time, I personally promised my Republican colleagues they would have ample opportunity to voice their concerns, offer germane amendments, and make changes to our proposal.

At no point did we ever ask them to vote for our legislation…we’ve simply been trying to get our Republicans friends to start debating, just as the Senate was intended to do.

Off the floor, we held public hearings, group discussions with Senators, and one-on-one meetings with the other side to try and win some support. Senators Manchin, Kaine, Tester, King, Durbin, Klobuchar, Leahy, and more have all met with Republicans to initiate a dialogue.

And at every turn, we have been met with resistance.

The sole exception in ten months has been our colleague, the Senator from Alaska, who voted in favor of advancing today’s legislation. Today I thank her for working with us in good faith on this bill.

But where is the rest of the party of Lincoln?

Down to the last member, the rest of the Republican Conference has refused to engage, refused to debate, even refused to acknowledge that our country faces a serious threat to democracy.

The Senate is better than this. A simple look at our history shows we are better than this: the same institution that passed Civil Rights Legislation, the New Deal, the Great Society, and the bills of Reconstruction should be more than capable of defending voting rights in the modern era. 

But as anyone who has been here for more than a few years knows, the gears of Senate have ossified over the years. The filibuster is used far more today than ever before—by some measures ten times as much compared to decades past.

Some might wonder if any of the great accomplishments of the past would have a chance of passage today. Would the Social Security Act pass the modern Senate? Or what about the Medicare and Medicaid Acts? Or what about the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

We sure hope they would, but it is difficult to see that with the way this chamber works today.

As I said a few weeks ago, I believe the Senate needs to be restored to its rightful status as the world’s greatest deliberative body.

It has earned that title precisely because, yes, debate is the central feature of this body

But at the end of the day, so is governing. So is taking action, when needed, once the debate has run its due course.

This is an old, old fight in this chamber. Over 100 years ago, the great Senator of Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge, said that “to vote without debating is perilous, but to debate and never vote is imbecile.”

To vote without debating is perilous, but to debate and never vote is imbecile.

We should heed those words today, and explore whatever paths we have to restore the Senate so it does what its framers intended: debate, deliberate, comprise, and vote.

We can’t be satisfied in this chamber with thinking that democracy will always win out in the end, if we aren’t willing to put in the work to defend it. It will require constant vigilance to keep democracy alive in the 21st century.

Just because Republicans will not join us doesn’t mean Democrats will stop fighting. This is too important. We will continue to fight for voting rights and find an alternative path forward, even if it means going at it alone, to defend the most fundamental liberty we have as citizens.