Pelosi urges Democrats to pass voting rights bills: 'The clock is ticking on our democracy'

Pelosi urges Democrats to pass voting rights bills: 'The clock is ticking on our democracy'
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Overnight Health Care: Average daily COVID infections topped last summer's peak, CDC says | US reaches 70 percent vaccination goal a month after Biden's target | White House says CDC can't renew eviction ban Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban MORE (D-Calif.) on Monday sent a "Dear Colleague" letter underscoring a mounting urgency among Democrats to pass federal voting rights legislation. 

“The clock is ticking on our democracy with respect to the sanctity of the vote, unless we act to combat the actions taken by Republicans across the country to suppress the vote,” Pelosi wrote in the letter to her House caucus. 

“As of May 14, nearly 400 voter restriction bills have been introduced across 48 states,” she added.

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Democrats have made passing a pair of voting rights bills — H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, also known as the For the People Act and the John LewisJohn LewisThe Memo: Left pins hopes on Nina Turner in Ohio after recent defeats Manchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights House ethics panel decides against probe after Hank Johnson civil disobedience MORE Voting Rights Advancement Act — a priority as GOP-led states across the country debated and passed sweeping measures to put restrictions on voter registration and the ballot box. Republican state lawmakers began introducing the measures after President BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal Biden vaccine rule sets stage for onslaught of lawsuits MORE's victory over former President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions The Memo: Left pins hopes on Nina Turner in Ohio after recent defeats Biden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic MORE and amid Trump's debunked claims of a stolen election.

However, progress on getting the bills signed into law has been slow, with the For the People Act — known as S. 1 in the Senate — having languished in the upper chamber since March and H.R. 4 yet to be reintroduced in the House. 

The For the People Act would implement a smorgasbord of election mandates, including universal no-excuse absentee voting, same-day voter registration and campaign finance reform.

“H.R. 1 protects us in the current elections and must pass now,” Pelosi said.

Named after the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis (D-Ga.), H.R. 4 would put in place a new formula for the federal preclearance that was in the original Voting Rights Act.

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The preclearance required states and jurisdictions with track records of racial discrimination in voting to get any change to voting procedures approved by the Justice Department, but the Supreme Court in a landmark 2013 decision declared the formula outdated and thus unconstitutional.

Democrats are expected to reintroduce H.R. 4 in the coming months, but in her letter, Pelosi noted that it must be “constitutionally ironclad” when passed. 

Beyond staunch Republican opposition, the greatest hurdle in front of the bills is the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 “yes” votes to conclude debate on a piece of legislation and progress to a floor vote.

The Senate is currently evenly split between the parties, effectively making Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote the only advantage Democrats possess in the open chamber.  

Senate democrats could strike down the arcane rule with the slim majority they have, but moderate Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Graham says he has COVID-19 'breakthrough' infection MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Key Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate finalizes .2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ariz.), are firmly against retiring the procedure.

Even without a filibuster, however, passage of the bill wouldn't be guaranteed. Manchin said last week that he wouldn't support passing the For the People Act without bipartisan support.