Last week, Senate Republicans blocked a procedural vote to open debate on the Freedom to Vote Act, which was intended to protect voters from assaults on voting rights and improve the campaign finance system. The bill never had the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster leaving Senate Democrats with few options to get it passed. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke with BET.com about the Democrats’ next steps.
BET.com: Many people are discouraged that the GOP is making it so that voting rights are dependent upon where a person lives. Is there still a chance that the Senate can act or will this require an Executive Order?
Sen. Chuck Schumer: I want to be very clear what happened last week. Every single Republican senator blocked the Senate from even simply having debate on protecting Americans’ voting rights in free and fair elections. We now have every Democrat on a very strong bill, including Joe Manchin, that will deal with the horrible regressions these conservative Republican legislatures are passing across the country making it much harder for people of color to participate in the elections.
The vote last week shows that Republicans are not willing to go forward and they're standing in the way of the Senate functioning as it was intended.
BET.com: Is there reason to believe that the Democratic Party alone can advance the cause of voting rights and justice when there is such tremendous Republican opposition from the Senate to the House to even state legislatures?
Schumer: The fight to protect our democracy is far from over in the United States Senate. As early as this week, we're going to put the John Lewis Act on the floor of the Senate. We'll see if Republicans go along with that. And if not, we're going to do just what the majority party did after Reconstruction- look at doing this on our own, without Republicans.
BET.com: Some would say that this moment in history is akin to the Reconstruction Era in which angry whites legislated and made society such as to punish Black people for the gains they were promised from Emancipation. Do you think this moment is likewise racially based?
Schumer: It's been, unfortunately, part of the darkest, worst side of our history for a very long time. But leaders in the past, Democrat and Republican, at least when racism rears its ugly head, tried to rebut it, push it back down, even though it was always there. For the first time, we had a president who either ignored it or exalted in it. He almost encouraged it in many ways. And so this ugly demon of racism has been released, sort of above ground. Well, it's always been above ground, but in a more virulent form, with the people who are always racist feeling far more empowered because of Trump.
Our job is to do two things. It's to try and pass laws to fight this, but it's also our duty as citizens and my duty as Majority Leader to fight this every step of the way in every way. We're trying to do that legislatively but also encouraging the Biden Administration to take executive actions. It’s encouraging that the American citizenry is speaking out against this kind of virulent disgusting racism.
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BET.com: What should give American voters the will to hang in there and the confidence that things can improve?
Schumer: If these Trump supporters who are running for office are soundly defeated, I think it will be a lesson to so many of the other Republicans who may not share all the views of Trump but just shrug their shoulders and remain silent. Maybe they'll start working with us. Voting rights legislation has always been bipartisan and now it isn't.
In the wake of Donald Trump's defeat, Trump and his allies in the media have been spreading this big lie that the election was stolen. It's a big lie. Everyone knows that's not true! They're a direct attack on our fundamental liberties as American citizens. So the Senate is very, very focused on this issue.