TRANSCRIPT: Majority Leader Schumer Remarks At Senate Rules Committee Hearing On S.1., The For The People Act, Legislation To Strengthen American Democracy

March 24, 2021

Washington, D.C.   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today delivered remarks at the Senate Rules Committee hearing on S.1., the For The People Act, a top priority in this Congress that will strengthen American democracy. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:


This is the first committee meeting I'm attending as Majority Leader, because I believe this issue is so, so important.


Now, the story of American democracy is a long and messy one, full of contradictions and halting progress. Two steps forward, one step back.


It was a century and a half before women got the right to vote, another half-century before African Americans could enjoy the full rights of citizenship.


It took mighty movements and decades of fraught political conflict to achieve even those basic dignities, and establish the United States as a full democracy, worthy of the title.


Progress and the right to vote is a hallmark of this democracy. When the nation was founded, you had to be a white, male, Protestant, property-owner in many of the states. If we kept those rules in effect, we maybe would have five percent or ten percent of the American people voting. But no, our move to equality, our move to fairness has been inexorable.


But it didn’t happen on its own. As I said, it took mighty movements and decades of fraught political conflict to achieve those basic dignities.


But any American who thinks that the fight for a full and fair democracy is over, is sadly and sorely mistaken.


Today, now, in the 21st Century, there is a concerted, nationwide effort to limit the right of American citizens to vote and to truly have a voice in their own government.


In the wake of the November elections—one of the safest in recent history—Republican-led state legislatures have seized on the former president’s “big lie” that the election was stolen and introduced more than 250 bills in 43 states aimed at tightening voting rules under the guise, the guise of “election integrity.”


Instead of doing what you should be doing when you lose an election in a democracy, attempting to win over those voters in the next election, Republicans instead are trying to disenfranchise those voters. Shame on them.


In Iowa, where college students often rely on the flexibility provided by early and mail-in voting, the Republican legislature voted to cut early voting by nine days, close polls an hour earlier, and tighten rules on absentee voting.


In Wisconsin, where urban and rural precincts face vastly different administrative burdens, Republicans have proposed limiting ballot drop boxes to only one municipality—no matter what its size.


Could be 10,000 voters in a rural Republican county or 500,000 voters in an urban Democratic county. One ballot drop box.


In Arizona, no fewer than 22 separate measures to limit voting rights have been introduced, including a bill to require every absentee ballot to be notarized. How are poor people going to pay for a notary? When there’s virtually no indication of fraud. That is one of the most despicable things I have seen in all my years. Shame, shame, shame. Other things in Arizona, two bills to ban automatic voter registration and same-day registration, even though neither practice exists in Arizona.


And the most reprehensible effort of all might be found in Georgia, where Republicans recently passed a law to eliminate early voting on Sundays, on Sundays. A day when many churchgoing African-Americans participate in voter-drives known as “souls to the polls.”


What an astonishing coincidence! Outlaw voting on a day when African-American churches sponsor get-out-the-vote efforts.


I’d like one of the Republican members on this committee to give us all a plain sense justification for that restriction—no early voting on Sundays.


Why did Georgia Republicans [try to] outlaw it? Monday through Saturday legitimate voters show up, but Sunday is “voter fraud day”? Give me a break. Every one of us Democrat, Republican, liberal and conservative, knows what the Georgia legislature is doing. They don’t even have a good justification for it.  


This is infuriating. I would like to ask my Republican colleagues: Why are you so afraid of democracy? Why instead of trying to win voters over that you lost in the last election are you trying to prevent them from voting?


Our country has come a long way, supposedly, since African-Americans in the South were forced to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to vote. But some of these voter suppression laws in Georgia and other Republican states smack of Jim Crow, rearing its ugly head once again. It is 160 years since the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments abolish slavery and Jim Crow still seems to be with us.


The laws, their various cousins in Republican state legislatures across the country, are one of the greatest threats we have to modern democracy in America.


According to the Washington Post, these laws could strain every available method of voting for tens of millions of Americans, the most sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction.


If one political party believes that when you lose an election, the answer isn’t to win more votes but rather to try and prevent the other side from voting, we have an existential threat to democracy on our hands. If we don’t stop these vicious and often racist action, third-world autocracy like Erdo?an’s Turkey or Orbán’s Hungary will be on its way.


That’s why the country so badly needs S.1., a bill that would combat all of these voter suppression efforts; a bill that would make it easier—not harder—to vote by automatically registering American voters when they get a driver’s license; by guaranteeing at least 15 continuous days of early voting; a bill that would limit dark money and corruption in our politics, and much more.


We’re going to hear from my fellow Democratic committee members why this bill is so important.

 

And I expect that we’re going to hear the same tired canards from our Republican colleagues, many of which have no basis in fact. Most of which defy belief.

 

We’re going to hear that this bill to—gasp—register Americans to vote—is a “democratic power grab.”


We’re going to hear that it’s a “federal takeover” of our elections. Never mind that the Founders, who my Republican colleagues invoke when it’s time to confirm a right-wing judge, wrote in the Constitution, in the Constitution that the Congress has the power to pass laws to determine the time, place and manner of federal elections.


We’ve been down this road before. Opponents of voting rights throughout history have always said ‘leave it to the states.’ Just leave it to the states to discriminate against African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, younger Americans in college. It is shameful. Our Republican colleagues are proposing these ideas in 2020, the same kinds of states’ rights arguments that have been used from time immemorial to prevent certain people from voting. Shame, shame, shame. This is not a usual political argument. This goes to the core of our democracy.


The crowning achievement of the American civil rights movement was a federal election law. You might know it better as the Voting Rights Act. Federal. Federal. Bipartisan.


The truth is that we have passed scores of federal election laws and amended our Constitution to guarantee the franchise to our citizens, often bipartisan, led by Republican Presidents. The Voting Rights Act of 1965. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The Help America Vote Act of 2002. The 14th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th amendments. All election changes.


That’s because, in a democracy, it shouldn’t matter if a state wants to make it so onerous for a particular group to vote that it’s nigh impossible. Is requiring a notary public any different than asking people to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar? I guarantee you the motivation is exactly the same. It shouldn’t matter if a state wants to do it because it’s wrong. So against the grain of our democracy.


Voting rights are sacrosanct. They must be inviolable. And if Congress has to pass a law or amend the Constitution to protect the voting rights of our citizens, that’s what we should do. That’s what we must do. That’s what our democracy requires we do.


S.1. – the For the People Act – will be a priority in this Congress.

 

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