Senate GOP Rejection of John Lewis Voting Rights Act Leaves Democratic Lawmakers Infuriated
Supporters of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act loudly blasted Senate Republicans after a vote on Wednesday blocked the measure, leaving its passage uncertain and those who have championed it politically bruised.
The bill was aimed at fighting voter suppression and restoring important parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but in a 50-49 tally of the procedural vote, the Senate put it down citing that the legislation had too much federal overreach. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the only Republican to vote to advance it. The move makes it nearly impossible to advance the bill past the filibuster.
The move angered many who have been hoping for passage since it was introduced in January and passed by the House in August.
Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, who co-introduced the bill with Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy openly voiced her frustration with the bill’s failure and criticized the process that allows Republicans to block legislation at will.
“It is now crystal clear—Senate Republicans will make it impossible to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster and pass this critical voting rights reform,” said Sewell in a statement. “The choice is simple. We either make common sense reforms to the filibuster or we let extremist politicians continue to erect barriers to the ballot box in states across this nation.”
Sewell is not the only one to call for filibuster reform. Others including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware also complained about the bottlenecks created by legislative filibustering, which in simple terms is talking out a bill for a lengthy period to delay or prevent a vote. It takes 60 members to vote to end the filibuster, which the Democrats did not have for the Lewis bill.
“It has become clear to me that if the filibuster is standing in the way of protecting our democracy then the filibuster isn’t working for our democracy," said Carper, who in the past had been reluctant about filibuster reform, according to The Hill.
Others outside of Congress who had been waiting for the bill’s passage also showed their frustration with its stonewalling.
“It is deeply upsetting when public officials intentionally block efforts to ensure that every citizen can vote regardless of their race, ethnicity or the language they speak,” said LaShawn Warren, Chief Policy Officer for the SPLC Action Fund. “The right to vote is not a partisan issue; it is a moral issue. We hold ourselves out to the world as a representative democracy, but even in the face of the January 6 insurrection, many U.S. Senators still refuse to support efforts to ensure we have a government that works for and serves everyone.”
Rep. Val Demings of Florida was one of many in Congress who were very concerned about how failure to pass the Lewis bill would affect their constituencies. This is especially concerning in states where legislators have tried to limit voting rights among African Americans, who heavily voted to move Republicans from the White House and give Democrats a slight majority in the Senate.
“John Lewis devoted and risked his life for the cause of freedom. He called the right to vote ‘precious – almost sacred.’ I am proud that our legislation was named in his honor. The Senate Republicans who are blocking voting rights for millions of Floridians have forgotten their oaths to the Constitution,” said Demings in a statement late Wednesday. “They should be ashamed of their betrayal of our most deeply held American values.”
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Speaking from the floor of the Senate, Schumer vowed that Democrats, despite the defeat, would not allow this to stop them from getting voting rights legislation through Congress.
"Just because Republicans will not join us doesn't mean Democrats will stop fighting. This is too important. We will continue to fight for voting rights and find an alternative path forward, even if it means going it alone," Schumer said, according to The Hill.