After applauding House Democrats for passing—yet again—a sweeping plan to expand voting rights, rein in dark money, and strengthen federal ethics rules without the support of a single Republican, progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups warned late Wednesday that the For the People Act is destined to end up in the Senate's legislative graveyard unless the upper chamber's majority eliminates the undemocratic 60-vote filibuster.
"The House has taken a strong step forward toward protecting voting rights, ending partisan gerrymandering, and strengthening our crumbling democracy—and now it heads to the Senate where it will slam into Sen. McConnell's filibuster brick wall," said Eli Zupnick, spokesperson for the watchdog group Fix Our Senate, which warned the ambitious and popular bill is "dead" if Democrats refuse to abolish the 60-vote rule.
"Senate Democrats will soon face a clear choice," added Zupnick. "Protect our democracy and pass the For the People Act with the majority voters handed to them, or protect an outdated and abused 'Jim Crow' relic and allow Sen. McConnell to veto this once-in-a-generation opportunity for reform."
Sean Eldridge, founder and president of Stand Up America, echoed that message, saying in a statement Wednesday night that Senate Democrats must "ensure Republicans are unable to abuse the filibuster to block this transformational legislation from becoming law."
"As the 2020 election and the Capitol insurrection so clearly showed, too much is at stake to let an archaic rule prevent us from fortifying our democracy," Eldridge said.
With Republican lawmakers plowing ahead with voter suppression legislation at the state level and the conservative-dominated Supreme Court poised to strike another blow to the already-gutted Voting Rights Act, House Democrats' nearly 800-page legislation (H.R. 1) proposes, among other reforms:
- Establishing a national automatic voter registration system;
- Restoring full voting rights for those who have completed felony sentences;
- Expanding early and absentee voting;
- Prohibiting large voter-roll purges;
- Requiring all organizations involved in political activity to disclose their donors; and
- Implementing a public small-donor matching system funded by "a new surcharge on corporate law breakers and wealthy tax cheats."
"Over the last several weeks, Republican lawmakers in states across the country have ramped up efforts to suppress the vote—especially in communities of color," Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the lead sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement Wednesday. "At a time when Americans from across the political spectrum are demanding real change and accountability from their elected officials, it's more important than ever before to deliver on the promise of H.R. 1 and restore faith in our democracy. We have no time to waste."
Given that not one House Republican crossed the aisle on Wednesday to support H.R. 1, the chances of convincing at least 10 Senate Republicans to join their Democratic colleagues in voting to advance the ambitious voting rights legislation are virtually nonexistent. With budget reconciliation not a viable avenue due to the strict rules of the process, the Senate Democratic majority's only remaining option to pass the the For the People Act is eliminating the filibuster and restoring majority rule.
That reality was acknowledged Wednesday by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who in 2017 was one of 31 Senate Democrats to sign a letter expressing support for the 60-vote legislative filibuster. In an interview with Mother Jones, Klobuchar said she would approve of eliminating the filibuster to pass the For the People Act.
"We have a raw exercise of political power going on where people are making it harder to vote," said the Minnesota Democrat, "and you just can't let that happen in a democracy because of some old rules in the Senate."
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The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted in a column Wednesday night that "what's critical here is that Klobuchar, who is decidedly not a member of the party's liberal wing, bluntly described the central question as one over whether Democrats will allow themselves to be steamrolled by a Republican exercise of power."
"How often do you hear other Democrats discuss the issue in quite these terms? Indeed, our discourse is so upside down that it gets discussed in precisely the opposite way. Democrats such as Manchin and Sinema constantly treat keeping the filibuster as something that will facilitate the operations of democracy," wrote Sargent, referring to the two conservative Senate Democrats who have been the most outspoken in their support for the 60-vote rule.
Stop asking Sinema & Manchin if they support the filibuster.
Start asking them why they don’t want to pass the For the People Act, legislation on climate change, & the rest of the vital bills that can’t pass via budget reconciliation & also can’t pass because of the filibuster.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) March 3, 2021
Upon the introduction earlier this year of S. 1—the Senate companion bill of H.R. 1—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) proclaimed that Democrats are "committed to advancing real solutions and fighting to uphold the core tenets of our Constitution" in the face of Republican attacks on voting rights.
But progressives warned Wednesday that such rhetorical commitments will amount to nothing if Senate Democrats allow the archaic 60-vote rule to obstruct necessary legislative solutions.
"Let's not be coy: Mitch McConnell will filibuster these reforms to death unless pro-democracy senators stop him," Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, said in a statement. "We know this because we've been here before. In 2019, McConnell called the democracy-saving reforms 'socialism' and a 'power grab,' and he refused to even allow a vote on the legislation."
"The For the People Act will suffer a similar fate," Levin warned, "unless pro-democracy senators take a different path—overcome McConnell's filibuster and pass this legislation."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Wednesday that "we cannot allow for archaic Senate procedure to derail progress and undermine our democracy—it's past time to abolish the filibuster so we can deliver real results for the American people, starting with the For the People Act."