As expected, Republicans in the United States Senate today voted against proceeding with the consideration of the Senate’s version of the For The People Act, which means that for the time being, the legislation is stalled, absent a vote to abolish the filibuster, or absent a vote to lower the filibuster threshold and convince at least a few Republicans to back the legislation.
By a vote of fifty to fifty, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on S. 1. Democratic senators vowed to keep on fighting, while Mitch McConnell, speaking on behalf of himself and his caucus, promised not to give an inch.
As the vote was along party lines, the roll call from the Pacific Northwest was simple: Democrats Murray, Cantwell, Merkley, Wyden, and Tester in favor; Republicans Risch, Crapo, Murkowski, Sullivan, and Daines against.
“I want to be clear about what just happened on the Senate floor,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D‑New York) in a short speech.
“Every single Senate Republican just voted against starting debate — starting debate — on legislation to protect Americans’ voting rights.”
“Once again, the Senate Republican minority has launched a partisan blockade of a pressing issue here in the United States Senate, an issue no less fundamental than the right to vote,” Schumer continued. “I have laid out the facts for weeks. Republican state legislatures across the country are engaged in the most sweeping voter suppression in eighty years.”
“The Republican leader,” Schumer went on, invoking McConnell, “uses the language and the logic of the Southern Senators of the 1960s who defended states’ rights, and it is an indefensible position for any Senator — any Senator, let alone the Minority Leader — to hold. And yet, that was the reason given for why Republicans voted in lockstep today: “regardless of what may be happening in some states, there’s no rationale for federal intervention.”
“That is both ridiculous and awful.”
“All we wanted to do here on the floor was to bring up the issue of voting rights and debate how to combat these vicious, oftentimes discriminatory voting restrictions. And today, every single Democratic Senator stood together in the fight to protect the right to vote in America. The Democratic Party in the Senate will always stand united to defend our democracy. I spoke with President Biden earlier this afternoon as well. He has been unshakable in his support of S.1 and I want to thank the President and the Vice President for their efforts.”
“Today, Democrats in Congress unanimously came together to protect the sacred right to vote,” said President Joe Biden in a statement issued by the White House. “In supporting the For the People Act and defending the rights of voters, they stood united for democracy. They stood against the ongoing assault of voter suppression that represents a Jim Crow era in the 21st Century.”
“Unfortunately, a Democratic stand to protect our democracy met a solid Republican wall of opposition. Senate Republicans opposed even a debate — even considering — legislation to protect the right to vote and our democracy.”
“It was the suppression of a bill to end voter suppression — another attack on voting rights that is sadly not unprecedented.”
“The creed ‘We Shall Overcome,’ is a longtime mainstay of the Civil Rights Movement. By coming together, Democrats took the next step forward in this continuous struggle — not just on Capitol Hill, but across the country — and a step forward to honor all those who came before us, people of all races and ages, who sacrificed and died to protect this sacred right.
“I’ll have more to say on this next week,” Biden promised.
“But let me be clear. This fight is far from over — far from over. I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we are going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again — for the people, for our very democracy.”
“The President and I are undeterred, and I know the American people are as well,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. “Like generations before, we will not give up, we will not give in, and we will continue the fight to strengthen the right to vote. We will fortify and expand the nationwide coalition on voting rights, and promote voter engagement and registration nationwide. We will lift up leaders in the states who are working to stop anti-voter legislation, and work with leaders in Congress to advance federal legislation that will strengthen voting rights.”
“I’m so disappointed that Republicans blocked even our ability to consider this vote – but I want Washington State families to know, I’m not going to stop here,” Senator Patty Murray (D‑Washington) said in a statement sent to NPI.
“This bill is so important for the future of our country and our democracy and we are going to keep working to get this done.”
“At the heart of this debate is whether we’re going to fight to make sure that the federal government does its job on constitutional rights,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, Washington State’s other United States Senator.
“The For the People Act is a comprehensive package of election reforms that sets basic national standards on voting access, campaign finance, and ethics rules. The Senate considered this bill as more and more states continue to restrict Americans’ access to the ballot box following the 2020 election — with a disproportionate impact on Black and Brown Americans.”
“I feel like there’s a little bit of hiding going on in this discussion about whether [the federal government has] a role, that this is somehow left up to the states, which reminds me when Rosa Parks was sitting on a bus, we didn’t say it’s just up to those individual states or when people were denied equal accommodations at hotels, we didn’t say it was just up to those states,” Cantwell remarked.
“And we certainly didn’t say when people used police dogs trying to intimidate women to vote in the 1960’s, that it was just up to those states. No, no, no. We did something about it. We passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We did that because intimidation was happening and we needed to correct for it. This is about whether we do our job in upholding these constitutional rights when certain states don’t do that.”
“I will not stop working tirelessly to protect the constitutional right to vote in every nook and cranny of our country,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden tweeted.
“Democrats are united to protect the right to vote and we’re determined to get this done. Don’t give up! Today’s vote is just the beginning!” Senator Jeff Merkley tweeted. “I assure you this is only Round One in the battle.”
Unlike many other states, Washington and Oregon have universal vote at home systems with automatic voter registration, meaning that voters have several weeks in which to return a ballot and never have to worry about waiting in line for two, four, or eight hours in order to participate in an election, or be turned away from a polling place due to not having a particular form of identification.
This same system ought to be available to all Americans, and some states are moving towards embracing it, including Nevada and Vermont. However, as mentioned by Vice President Harris and Majority Leader Schumer, a number of Republican-controlled states (Texas, Georgia, Iowa, Florida among them) are moving in the opposite direction, and making it harder to vote.
That’s why the For The People Act is so sorely needed.
Where they control state governments, Republicans are obsessed with making it harder to vote, just as a past generation of openly racist state officials fought efforts to desegregate and uphold the civil rights of Black Americans. Federal legislation enacted as part of the Great Society, including the aforementioned Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, was instrumental in counterattacking the South’s Jim Crow regime and similar laws elsewhere in the country.
If Senate rules permitted legislation to be considered by majority vote, then the For The People Act would have advanced to the floor for consideration today with fifty-one votes in favor (Vice President Kamala Harris would have been able to break the tie). But instead, it became the latest victim of the Senate’s sixty vote procedural threshold, which has become known by the catchall term filibuster.
The filibuster was not contemplated by the Founders, and it is not a facet of the Constitution. Yet it remains in place in Senate rules because Democratic senators like Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Dianne Feinstein, and Chris Coons will not commit to scrapping it. It is telling that the pro-filibuster Democratic faction could not muster a single Republican vote to join them in advancing S. 1.
Given that the threshold is sixty votes, the likes of Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney all could have voted to invoke cloture without jeopardizing the outcome for McConnell and the rest of their Senate Republican colleagues.
But of course, they didn’t.
Those senators may be more independently minded than some of their colleagues, but they’re not going to help move legislation along that would imperil the Republican Party’s ability to disenfranchise voters in key states that will influence who controls Congress in 2023, and the presidency in 2025.
Whether there ends up being any federal legislation to protect voting rights in this Congress will thus depend on whether the Democratic pro-filibuster faction decides that keeping the filibuster is more important than keeping the Republic.
That’s the choice.
What’s it going to be, Senator Manchin? Senator Sinema? You can certainly maintain your pro-filibuster position for now in the vain hope that some of your Republican colleagues will come around… or that you’ll be able to persuade them to stop filibustering. But eventually, the clock will run out on this Congress.
And if no voting rights legislation is passed, it will be your fault.
Voters in January in Georgia sent you two Democratic senators to ensure the Senate would have a bare working Democratic majority in this Congress to do the people’s work. Together, as a caucus, with Vice President Harris, you have fifty-one votes right now. Use them. Deliver for the people; protect our Republic!
By all means, give Republicans a chance to vote for anything that you’re working on. But if they say no, if they obstruct, if they operate in bad faith — as they have and likely will continue to — then you must be willing to move forward without them. Otherwise, the effect of your decisions will be to keep power concentrated in Mitch McConnell’s hands, and significantly increase the likelihood that the American experiment in democracy will not survive the next few years.