WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats are trying to provoke public action against their sweeping election legislation in a bid to start debate over a key partisan priority, even though there is no guarantee the bill will be put to a vote.
The event is scheduled to begin at 10:45 am ET. Look in the player above.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined the plan in a memo obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to privately meet with Senate Democrats to discuss the way forward. Democrats still need a way to vote on a law now blocked by a Republican filibuster.
“Finally, we will have the opportunity to discuss voting rights legislation — something that the Republicans have so far denied,” Schumer wrote in a memo to his fellow Democrats, which describes a workaround to avoid Republican filibusters, which during blocked official debate on legislation in the Senate floor for several months. “Senators will finally be able to make clear to the American people their position on protecting our democracy and preserving the right of every eligible American to vote.”
The strategy does little to address the central problem Democrats face — they lack Republican support to pass bipartisan election law, but also no support from all 50 Democrats to change Senate rules to allow passage on their own. But the latest tactic could deviate from their original approach, which was to vote on filibuster changes in the Senate by Monday to pressure Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Cinema of Arizona to agree.
By organizing the debate, Schumer will achieve the Democrats’ goal of getting senators’ attention to their position. The debate in the room could stretch for days and carry echoes of civil rights battles a generation ago that led to some of the most notorious filibusters in Senate history.
“I would not want to fool anyone into thinking it’s easy,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday. He called this push “wrestling up the hill.”
Democrats have vowed to counter a wave of new state laws inspired by Donald Trump’s false claims of stolen elections that have hampered the vote. But after an initial burst of activity, the Democrats’ efforts stalled in a narrowly divided Senate, where they are 60 votes short of defeating a Republican filibuster, leading them to call for rule changes.
They recently tried to breathe new life into the effort. Biden delivered a fiery speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, where he told senators that they would each be “judged by history” if they did not act. He is due to meet with Democratic senators at the Capitol on Thursday to push efforts forward.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell sharply denied Biden’s speech on Wednesday, arguing against comparing opponents of the voting law to racist historical figures, including George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, who ran for president, and Jefferson Davis, who was President of Confederation.
“You can’t think of a better advertisement for a legislative obstructionist than what we’ve just seen: The President is abandoning rational persuasion in favor of pure demagogy,” McConnell, Kentucky, said from the Senate floor. “The president screaming that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racists if he doesn’t get what he wants proves why the creators created the Senate to keep his power in check. “
On Wednesday, when asked to respond to McConnell’s comments, Biden turned around, removed his black mask and said, “I like Mitch McConnell. He is friend. The response came as Biden traveled to the Capitol to pay his respects to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who died last month and was in the Rotunda.
Republicans are almost unanimous in their opposition to the voting law, seeing it as an abuse of federal power that undermines the ability of states to hold their own elections. And they pointed out that Democrats opposed the filibuster changes that Trump sought when he was president.
For Democrats and Biden, law is a political imperative. Failure to accept it would violate an important campaign promise to black voters that helped transfer control of the White House and Congress to Democrats, and will come shortly before the midterm elections, when a small Democratic majority is at stake. It will also mark the second major setback on Biden’s agenda in a month after Manchin suspended work on the president’s $ 2 trillion social and environmental package shortly before Christmas.
The current package of voting and ethics laws will usher in the largest electoral restructuring in the United States in a generation, removing obstacles to voting in the name of electoral security, reducing the influence of big money in politics, and limiting party influence in elections. constituencies. The package will create national electoral standards that surpass GOP laws at the state level. It will also restore the Justice Department’s ability to enforce election laws in states where discrimination used to exist.
Many civil rights activists feel that Biden’s offensive on the franchise is too-slightly-too late for aggressively pursuing GOP-backed changes to state voting laws, which they see as a more subtle form of voting restrictions, such as literacy tests and voting taxes once used to disenfranchise black voters. Some boycotted Biden’s speech in Atlanta on Tuesday.
The New Georgia Project, a group founded by Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, was among those who urged Biden to skip the speech.
“We’ve heard this kind of rhetoric before,” the band said in a statement. “A goal without a plan is just a desire.”
Schumer set the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on January 17 as the deadline for either passing voting legislation or considering revising anti-piracy regulations. It is unclear if the scheduled vote on the rule change will take place.
Manchin, who was instrumental in writing the Democratic voting legislation, threw cold water on hopes Tuesday, saying any changes must be made with substantial Republican backing, though there are no Republican senators willing to sign on.
This confounded Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Democrat No. 3 in the House of Representatives and a senior member of the black caucus in Congress.
Clyburn questioned the wisdom of the reflexive search for bipartisanship, noting that the right to vote was given to newly freed slaves in party-line voting.
“He seems to be supporting the pirate on his own account,” Cliburn said of Manchin. “We are very confused by this.”
AP’s congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed.