Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Senate vote to begin consideration of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
Shortly before his death, the great John Lewis offered the American people a parting message:
“When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community…”
The words of the great, late John Lewis.
Well, today, the Senate is being called to take action. Because across our beloved democracy, something is indeed not right. Something malicious is afoot. A lie—a terrible lie—spread by the former President of the United States, is eating away, corrosively, at the foundations of our democratic heritage like a disease.
This lie has led to the greatest coordinated effort at the state level to suppress voting rights since the era of segregation. In states like Georgia and Texas and Iowa and Florida and Arizona—and many others—partisans have re-written the rules of our elections in broad daylight, potentially making it harder for tens of millions of young, minority, low income, disabled, and generally Democratic-leaning voters from participating in elections.
Today, the Senate will have the chance to respond to these attacks by voting to simply begin consideration, simply begin consideration, of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It's a common-sense proposal to reinstate the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act which were wrongfully struck down by a conservative Supreme Court and which have a long history of bipartisan support in the Senate.
I want to thank my colleagues Senator Leahy, who spoke earlier today, and Chairman Durbin—and all my other Democratic colleagues who had a hand in drafting this proposal.
And a special thanks to our colleague the Senator from Alaska, who announced yesterday that she will vote in favor of opening debate on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
I know it was not a decision she made lightly. She called me from Alaska and let me know of it. But my Democratic colleagues worked hard with her to compromise on a proposal that she could support while still maintaining the basic thrust of their legislation.
Just as Democrats in the Senate worked with Senator Murkowski on legislation to strengthen our democracy, we will work with other Republicans in good faith to improve this legislation, but they must come to the table first.
I want to emphasize once again what today’s vote is about. We are not asking any Republican to support specific legislation. Today is about whether or not we will vote to begin debate here in this chamber.
Again, the preclearance provisions that are being updated in today’s bill have long been supported by both sides of the aisle, repeatedly. The Voting Rights Act, which originally instituted them, has been updated five times in the last half-century, under both Republican and Democratic presidents and with votes from both sides. This has always been a bipartisan issue in the past.
It should be no different today—and I commit to my Republican colleagues that we will have a full-fledged debate process here on the floor, where our colleagues can offer germane amendments and voice what concerns they may have.
I hope more members on the other side of the aisle follow in Senator Murkowski’s example. Senate Republicans shouldn’t be afraid of merely starting debate on an issue we’ve long debated and long supported in the past.
But crossing their arms and squelching any opportunity for progress is unacceptable. If Republicans have different ideas on how to achieve a stronger democracy, they owe it to the American people to come forward and debate their ideas.
I hope they do the right thing and vote for cloture to move forward on this discussion later today.