Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority
Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the
Act 77 was passed in 2019 by the Pennsylvania state legislature when Republicans held the majority in both houses. Among other voting reforms, the bill provided for no-excuse absentee voting and extended registration deadlines. At the time, Republicans in the state legislature were operating under the assumption that mail-in voting would boost participation among seniors, who tend to lean Republican. Every single Republican State Senator voted for the bill. In the State House, 105 Pennsylvania Republicans voted for the bill. And 2 voted no. That was 2019.
Fast forward one year later.
Donald Trump, fresh off a resounding loss in the 2020 presidential election, cried foul and lied, lied that the election was stolen from him like a petulant child. One of his favorite bugaboos, as we all know, was mail-in voting.
So a little over a year after 132 Pennsylvania Republicans voted for Act 77 with only 2 against, they introduced a bill to—you guessed it—repeal Act 77. A law that Republicans passed while they were in the majority just a year before.
There is a rot – a rot – at the center of the modern Republican party. Donald Trump’s Big Lie has spread like a cancer and threatens to envelop one of America’s major political parties. Even worse, it has poisoned our democracy, eroded faith in our elections, which is so detrimental to the future faith people need to have in this democracy. And, of course, it became the match that lit a wildfire of Republican voter suppression laws sweeping across the country.
Because of one man’s lie, Republicans are now doing the dastardly act of taking away voting from millions of Americans – millions of Americans – making it much harder for them to vote, and many, many, many will not.
From Georgia to Montana, from Florida to Iowa, Republican state legislatures are conducting the most coordinated voter suppression effort in 80 years.
And as the example of Act 77 in Pennsylvania goes to show, there is no principle behind these laws: not fraud, not election integrity, not security, not better election administration. The only principle is blatant partisan electoral advantage. Aimed at people of color, young people, urban people, people who vote democratic, nothing to do with fraud. They haven't pointed out that there is more fraud in those areas than in other areas. It's just blatant, blatant partisan advantage.
Whatever voting changes Republicans think are good for Republicans, they’ll make them—even if it means resorting to the awful, un-American act of voter suppression.
So in state after state, state after state, Republicans are reducing polling hours and locations and the number of drop boxes, so that Americans of all parties—but particularly democratic voters, people of color, young people, poorer people—have a harder time finding the time, place, and manner to vote.
They’re limiting the kind of IDs you can use, like student IDs, while at the same time, removing requirements for any form of licensing to own a firearm. Has any study shown that there is less fraud among firearm owners than students? There's probably very little among either, but they pick one group and not the other, and we know why. Republican legislatures are making it easier to own a gun than to vote.
Republican legislatures are making it harder to vote early, harder to vote by mail, harder to vote after work.
They’re making it a crime to give food or water to voters waiting in long lines.
They’re trying to make it harder for Black churchgoers to vote on Sunday.
And they’re actually making it easier for un-elected judges and partisan election boards to overturn the results of an election, opening the door for some demagogue, a Trumpian type demagogue, maybe he himself, to try and subvert our elections in the very same way that Trump tried to do in 2020.
Republicans say these
laws are about “election integrity.” They claim they’re only trying to “secure
the vote.” Some of my Republican
We all know what these laws are about. I daresay my Republican colleagues know. They’re not stupid.
When the state of Texas proposes to limit voting hours on Sundays to only a few hours in the evening, do they really believe that’s about preventing fraud? Do my Senate friends want to back up that kind of thing? Prevent it even from being talked about here on the floor of the Senate?
When Georgia Republicans say it’s a crime to give a voter some water or food as they wait in line in a hot day, do they really think they’re preventing voter fraud by denying them a snack?
Give me a break. Republicans across the country are deliberately targeting all the ways that younger, poorer, non-white, and typically Democratic voters access the ballot.
Republicans claim they’re making it easier to vote and harder to cheat in an election; but in reality, they are making it harder to vote and easier to cheat an election.
And we all know it. And all we want to do here is debate it. Regular order, which colleagues on both sides of the aisle have asked for. That’s what we are asking for here. Just to debate these things. And they won’t even do that because they are so afraid of what that debate will show—that this is not election integrity, but this is voter suppression and voter suppression directed only at one group of voters.
We’re going to see what happens today. Later today, the entire country will see whether our Republican friends are willing to even debate this issue in broad daylight.
This afternoon, the United States Senate will vote on a motion to proceed to voting rights legislation. We all know what a motion to proceed is around here, but let me explain it.
All it says is let’s go forward with debate. Let’s debate something. And this is among the most important things we could ever debate – the right to vote. What our soldiers have died for, what peaceful marchers have been bloodied for. The right to vote.
It takes 60 votes to start debate, and everyone knows that you still need 60 votes to end debate on a bill. So even if the Republicans don’t like the legislation at the end of the process, let them vote against it then.
But no, they don’t even want to debate it. They don’t even want to debate it because they’re afraid.
They want to deny the right to vote, make it harder to vote for so many Americans, and they don’t want to talk about it. They want to sweep it under the rug and hope that Americans don’t hear about it.
But Americans will hear about it. We’re going to make sure of that, and millions in the country who are rightly and correctly outraged by what is happening will let everyone know what has happened.
Only by starting the process can Senators offer amendments, change the bill, forge compromise. Only then can Senators engage in a full-throated debate about what this chamber should do about the assault on voting rights in this country.
Obviously there are arguments about what should be done to protect voting rights and safeguard our democracy. Obviously there are arguments about which policies are the most effective. But shouldn’t we at least agree to debate the issue?
That is the only question for the United States Senate today. Do my Republican colleagues believe that voting rights—the most fundamental in a democracy, the right that generations of Americans have marched for and protested to achieve, that generations of American soldiers have fought and died to secure—is worthy of debate?
Of course it is!
Should the United States Senate even debate how to protect the voting rights of our citizens? There is only one correct answer. We’ll see if our Republican colleagues choose it this afternoon.
This is not simply a partisan issue, as partisan as the Republican side and the state legislatures and now here in the Senate seem to make it. It is about the fundamental values of this country. It’s about what we’re all about.
When the Constitution was started in most states, you had to be a white, male, Protestant property owner to vote. There has been an inexorable march to expand that right to vote, and allow more and more Americans that right to vote.
This is a giant step backward. Obviously it’s a partisan issue to the Republicans. But it’s a much deeper issue than that. Will our colleagues stand up for what generations of Americans have fought for, marched for, and died for?
Or will they just slink away and say we’re not going to even debate this?
I yield the floor.