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Members of the activist group Rise And Resist and other organizations gathered at the steps of the New York Public Library on June 10, 2021 to demand an end to the filibuster. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'The Filibuster Must Go': Senate GOP Blocks Debate on Voting Rights Bill

"Democrats in the Senate can have a functional democracy or the filibuster, but not both."

Jessica Corbett

Voting rights advocates on Tuesday condemned Senate Republicans for blocking debate on the For the People Act, a sweeping pro-democracy bill, in a widely anticipated 50-50 vote that bolstered progressives' arguments for combating GOP obstruction by killing the filibuster.

"Our democracy is under daily attack from Republican forces seeking to destroy it for their own political gain."
—Rahna Epting, MoveOn

The Democrat-led House passed a version of the popular bill in March. Although even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who refused to be co-sponsor, voted with the rest of the Senate's Democratic caucus to advance the bill, it fell short of the 60 votes needed in the evenly divided chamber.

"Today, the Republican Party doubled down on its continued assault on American democracy and the Senate reverted back to some of its darkest days," declared MoveOn executive director Rahna Epting. "In the 1950s and 1960s, senators used the filibuster to block historic civil rights and voting rights legislation. Today's vote proves that history does in fact repeat itself."

"Here is the plain truth: Our democracy is under daily attack from Republican forces seeking to destroy it for their own political gain," she continued. "It started long before January 6th and it has continued more than six months after the attack on the U.S. Capitol."

"Let's be clear, this is a five-alarm fire," Epting added. She asserted that "the Senate is broken," thanks to "years of abuse and raw power grabs" by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his GOP colleagues, and "Democrats must fix it."

"We can no longer allow Mitch McConnell to use Jim Crow-era Senate procedures to stop those trying to fix it from doing so," she said. "Today's vote proves once and for all: the filibuster must go. And now, before more damage can be done."

Those sentiments were shared by various advocates and elected officials, including federal lawmakers who tweeted fresh calls to end the filibuster.

"The Senate's vote today to block debate on S. 1, the For the People Act, demonstrates the vital need for Democrats to abolish the filibuster in the Senate," said Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl. "The decision Democrats have in front of them is clear: Our nation is going to have either majority rule, or permanent rule by the minority."

Charly Carter, executive director of the Democracy Initiative, noted that "the common-sense voting protections, limits on partisan gerrymandering, and ethics reforms that are included in the For the People Act enjoy overwhelming and majority support."

"But Republican senators today used the filibuster—a racist remnant of white supremacy—to deny Black and Brown and young people their right to vote. In doing so, they deny all Americans the inclusive democracy we deserve," Carter continued. "It's a concrete example of why we must fix the Senate now to end partisan gridlock."

Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn concurred that the vote "makes clear that the Senate has no choice but to reform its rules so that a duly-elected majority can deliver for democracy. The filibuster is neither a tool of debate nor bipartisanship—it prevents both."

She also blasted Republicans for "championing a new generation of Jim Crow laws aimed at denying the right to vote to Black and Brown voters nationwide," calling out McConnell and other GOP senators who "have stood by in tacit approval" as state legislatures—including those in Florida and Georgia—have recently passed laws designed to limit access to the ballot box.

Battle Born Collective senior adviser Tré Easton emphasized that Tuesday's vote and arguments over the Senate rules are about more than the vitally needed For the People Act.

"Senate Democrats must ask themselves a fundamental question: Do they want to govern or not?" he said. "For the past decade, Democrats of every stripe have campaigned on raising the minimum wage, protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, fighting the climate crisis, stemming the scourge of gun violence, protecting access to reproductive healthcare, and strengthening our democracy."

"Voters gave Democrats the rare opportunity to make good on all of those promises, but that opportunity is being squandered," Easton charged. "Democrats in the Senate can have a functional democracy or the filibuster, but not both."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the bill's lead sponsor in the upper chamber, vowed to keep fighting.

"Democrats will not let this go. We will not let it die," Schumer said after the vote. "This voter suppression by GOP legislatures cannot stand. We are going to work tirelessly to see that it does not stand."

However, without the support of conservative Democrats like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the party cannot abolish the filibuster.

“Democracy is dying," warned Ellen Sciales, communications director for Sunrise Movement. "And with Democratic control of the White House and Congress, Democrats have the power to revive it. We need to be clear: Any Democrat who voted against this legislation, and any Democratic lawmaker who still supports the filibuster, is complicit in the voter suppression that we know will happen next year."

"Democrats need to learn: voter suppression isn't just evil, it also jeopardizes their power," she said. "Republicans are only terrified of making the vote more accessible because they know suppression is how they maintain control."

"Democrats must abolish the filibuster and pass democracy reform immediately," Sciales added, calling on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who oversaw Tuesday's vote, to "use their bully pulpit in full force."

Stand Up America founder and president Sean Eldridge promised that "this fight is far from over."

"We will not take no for an answer when our freedom to vote is at stake—and Senate Democrats shouldn't either," Eldridge said. "The Jim Crow filibuster is no excuse for inaction when access to the ballot box for millions of Americans is on the line."

"It's going to be a long, hot summer for any member of the Senate who doesn't do everything in their power to protect our freedom to vote," he vowed. "They will be hearing from us in the days ahead in their inboxes, on the phones, and at rallies across the country."

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