By Mike Lillis - 01/29/16 12:05 PM EST
BALTIMORE — Democratic leaders are teeing off on Republicans over voting rights, accusing the GOP of scheming to block access to the polls.
The charges are two-pronged, targeting both the Republicans' refusal to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and their support for the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which empowered anonymous and unlimited election spending by corporations, unions and other well-heeled interests.
"How could they face our founders, much less themselves, in the mirror, to say, 'I think it's really important to diminish participation in our political process,' " Pelosi said during a press briefing in Baltimore, where the Democrats are staging their yearly retreat. "Those founders sacrificed their lives, their liberty, their sacred honor for our democracy, a government of the many, not a government of the money."
Rallying the Democrats the day before, President Obama delivered a similar condemnation of the Republicans' voting rights position. He said the GOP's motives are clear: to "discourage" participation.
"I’m not going to claim that [Democrats] are right on every single issue, or we have a monopoly on wisdom. But I do know that we hold ourselves to a higher standard," Obama said.
"We believe that there are structural problems in our democracy that we can fix; that there’s too much money in our politics; that a true democracy doesn’t try to discourage people from voting but, in fact, tries to encourage people from voting and participating and making sure their voice is heard."
Delivering the invocation before Obama's speech was Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon whose heroics in 1965 leading a march in Selma, Ala., in the face of violence helped pave the way to passage of the VRA a few months later.
The Democrats have pressed legislation to update the VRA following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated a decades-old provision requiring certain states with histories of voter discrimination to get federal approval before changing election laws.
The court allowed that such discrimination might still exist but found the underlying coverage formula to be outdated and therefore unconstitutional.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said this week that legislation to update the VRA would pass if it were allowed a vote. He noted that former Rep. Leader Eric CantorEric CantorLobbying world The Trail 2016: 11 hours, 800 pages, 0 changed minds Juan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan MORE (R-Va.) had been open to the concept as majority leader in 2014, and he urged the current GOP leaders to follow suit.
"Cantor, before he left, indicated that we needed to do something on the Voting Rights Act. I think we can get the votes for that if it gets to the floor," Hoyer said Wednesday in Baltimore. "We ought not to put 2016 on hold in the Congress of the United States."
GOP leaders have not considered the legislation, saying it's unnecessary because the Supreme Court left enough of the VRA intact to protect voters sufficiently at the polls.
The effects of the court's decision were immediate, as a number of states — including Texas, North Carolina and Alabama — moved quickly to adopt tougher election policies, including new voter registration and voter ID requirements.
Supporters of those laws, including most Republicans, contend they're needed to fight voter fraud. Opponents say they're a ruse to depress election-year participation by black and other minority voters, who tend to support Democrats.
Obama said Thursday that he has no plans to drop the issue simply because the Republicans won't consider it.
"We believe that every vote, and every voice matters — whether it’s black or white, or Hispanic or Asian, or Native American, gay, straight, people with disabilities," he said. "That’s what we fought for. That’s why John Lewis is sitting here today."
The Democrats' retreat wraps up on Friday, following meetings with three final guests: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka; environmental activist Tom Steyer; and Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show."