Voting rights are human rights mural
Voting rights are human rights mural (Drone photo by Urban Mural Hunter)

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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