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for the people act

Voting rights activists hold signs as they participate in a demonstration outside the National Museum of African American History and Culture on August 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'A Five-Alarm Voting Rights Fire': Senate Urged to Fight Back After GOP Blocks For the People Act Again

"Biden and Senate Democrats need to tell us what their plan to pass S. 1 is—before it's too late."

Jessica Corbett

After GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas blocked a trio of bills on voting rights, gerrymandering, and campaign finance disclosure early Wednesday, progressives called on congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden to share their plans to protect U.S. democracy.

"Democrats and the Biden administration... must outline a path forward to ensuring our freedom to vote, and not let an arcane Senate rule impede progress."
—Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

"We're in a five-alarm voting rights fire," declared Nita Chaudhary, chief of programs at the advocacy group MoveOn, after Cruz blocked an attempt by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to bring up the three bills by unanimous consent.

The three measures are the revised For the People Act (S. 2093)—a sweeping pro-democracy bill initially introduced as S. 1—as well as the Redistricting Reform Act (S. 2670) and the DISCLOSE Act (S. 2671). Senate Republicans filibustered the House-approved For the People Act in June, increasing pressure on Democrats to abolish the filibuster in order to pass it.

"How is it possible that one person, representing one state, can effectively disenfranchise millions of voters? That's what we saw overnight when undemocratic Senate rules allowed a single senator, Ted Cruz, to block key provisions to protect voting rights of millions of Americans across the country," said Charly Carter, executive director of the Democracy Initiative.

"Voters across the country will be outraged by this latest perversion of our democracy," Carter added. "It's time to fix or nix the Jim Crow filibuster, which has paralyzed our government at the worst possible moment. We need rapid, forceful responses to intersecting crises of public health, racial injustice, economic inequality, and climate catastrophe. Instead, our lives are at risk from endless obstruction and partisan gridlock."

Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said that by continuing to block floor debate on the voting rights bill, Republicans "show more respect for an obstructionist strategy than they do for voters, elections, or the election administrators, poll workers, and volunteers who faithfully stand watch over our democracy in each election, ensuring fairness and accuracy in the ballot counts."

"To the millions of Americans around the country who prove we can modernize our elections by winning the solutions locally that Congress has included in the For the People Act, and to everyone who has made a call, written a letter, worked a phone bank, or attended a rally—this fight is not over," she added.

Although Schumer did not delay recess until the For the People Act was passed—which some progressives demanded, citing the necessity of urgent action—he did indicate that voting rights legislation will be the top focus when the Senate returns next month.

Noting the majority leader's comments, Hobert Flynn said that "if Americans stay engaged, contact their senators, keep the pressure on, and keep organizing on this as they have on important issues in the past, I'm confident we, the people will prevail."

Chaudhary, meanwhile, warned that "we know" Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "is not going to change his behavior," so Biden and Senate Democrats must "stop doing business as usual or they will simply keep allowing Republican senators to block popular and bipartisan proposals—including the For the People Act."

Cruz's moves to block consideration of the bills in the early hours of Wednesday came after an overnight vote-a-rama for a $3.5 trillion budget resolution for a package that Democrats intend to pass with just 50 votes thanks to the budget reconciliation process, which allows them to avoid a GOP filibuster.

However, many measures can't advance via that process, and as Republicans in the evenly split Senate have worked throughout the year to block progressive priorities, GOP state lawmakers nationwide have attempted to enact a wave of anti-voter measures, sometimes succeeding.

"As Republicans in state after state, across the country, continue to rig the rules in their favor, Democrats need to use every power they have to fight back, including eliminating the filibuster, to overcome this obstruction and deliver for the American people," said Chaudhary. "MoveOn members are not backing down and Biden and Senate Democrats need to tell us what their plan to pass S. 1 is—before it's too late."

That message was echoed by Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who also blasted Republicans because they "have unconscionably continued to unjustly and irresponsibly block this crucially important legislation that would ensure no voter is denied the right to cast their ballot freely, safely, and equally."

"It is vital that Senate Democrats and the Biden administration make the For the People Act a priority," Henderson said. "They must outline a path forward to ensuring our freedom to vote, and not let an arcane Senate rule impede progress. Our voices and demands for federal legislation that will help realize the promise of our democracy will not be silenced."

In a statement after the overnight session, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), lead sponsor of the For the People Act, highlighted Republicans' voter suppression measures in Florida, Georgia, Texas, "and so many other states across the country," and warned that such efforts are "threatening the constitutional right of American citizens to shape the decisions that affect us all."

Although Senate Democrats could change the chamber's rules and abolish the filibuster if they convinced every caucus member—particularly holdouts like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to get onboard—Merkley laid the blame on the GOP:

Tonight, once again, Republican senators filibustered to ensure the continuing corruption of our election systems. Hundreds of voter suppression bills—each of which are riding the coattails of the 'Big Lie' conspiracy—are piling up in state legislatures aimed at preventing targeted groups of American citizens from voting. Billionaires continue to buy elections with dark money. And Republican state officials are already planning how to rig the new round of legislative districts to seize power by denying Americans' equal representation. This legislation would end all of these tactics so the people—whatever their political affiliation, geography, skin color, or income—get to shape our government. That is an American value, not a partisan one.

"Unfortunately, this filibuster was expected, and makes clear that we must look at other options to pass this bill," he added, without detailing any specific plans for September. "Failure is not an option when it comes to preserving Americans' freedom to vote."

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