GOP blocks Senate Democrats’ revised elections bill

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked Democrats from advancing a revised bill to overhaul federal elections, marking the latest blow to hopes of getting voting legislation to President Biden.

The Senate voted 49-51 to end debate on whether to bring up the bill, known as the Freedom to Vote Act, falling short of the 60 needed.

The bill would make Election Day a national holiday, set national minimum standards for early voting and voting by mail and include standards for states requiring voter identification. It also has new requirements on disclosing who is behind online ads and aims to stop partisan gerrymandering

Democrats view voting rights and election reform as a top priority as GOP states debate and, in some cases, enact new laws in the wake of the 2020 election, which former President Trump and some of his closest allies have falsely claimed was stolen.

“For every two steps forward, sometimes there are those who try to pull us one step back. Unfortunately, we find ourselves today in the midst of such a struggle. Across the country, the Big Lie – the Big Lie – has spread like a cancer as many states across the nation have passed the most draconian restrictions against voting that we’ve seen in decades. If nothing is done, these laws will make it harder for millions of Americans to participate in their government,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday.

Schumer switched his vote to “no,” a procedural step that allows him to bring the bill back up for another vote. 

Biden and Vice President Harris made calls to senators this week on voting rights, according to a White House official, with the president talking to Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock (Ga.) and Alex Padilla (Calif.) and Harris speaking with Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) as well as Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“The administration is continuing to press for voting rights legislation to safeguard our democracy from these historic threats to constitutional freedoms and the integrity of elections through legislation, executive actions, outreach, the bully pulpit, and all other means available,” the official added.

The Brennan Center for Justice, which supports the Democratic bill, found in a report released earlier this month that 19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote. The Brennan Center also found that a total of 425 bills that restrict voting access had been introduced in 49 states during the 2021 legislative sessions.

Part of the problem for Democrats is that the only way to pass voting rights and election legislation without needing 10 GOP votes would be to nix or create a carveout from the legislative filibuster. But that would require total unity from the 50-member Senate Democratic caucus behind the idea, something they don’t have.

Democrats previously tried to bring a more expansive bill known as the For the People Act to the Senate floor, but were blocked by Republicans earlier this year.

Democrats then spent months trying to craft a narrower bill that united all 50 of their members. The new bill was negotiated by Klobuchar, King, Padilla and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was the party’s biggest holdout on the For the People Act.

Democrats had been expected to vote on the bill as soon as they returned from a weeks-long break in early August. But Schumer delayed the vote as Democrats gave Manchin time to try to figure out if there were 10 Republicans who could support the bill, or were recommending specific changes.

But on Wednesday no Republicans voted for the bill, arguing that it was an overreach by the federal government.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) called the Senate bill an “election takeover scheme.”

“The Senate knows how to make law in a productive, bipartisan way. We’ve done it this year on multiple subjects. We have done it on election issues themselves in recent memory when there was an actual problem that needed solving and an actually bipartisan process,” he added.

“But as long as Senate Democrats remain fixated on their radical agenda, this body will continue to do the job the framers assigned it, and stop terrible ideas in their tracks,” McConnell continued.

The Honest Elections Project, a conservative outside group, termed the Democratic bill the “Freedom to Cheat Act,” and argued that it would limit states’ ability to require voter ID, ban “sensible” absentee voting rules and would place new requirements on states’ redistricting efforts.

Democrats offered to let Republicans offer amendments to make changes to the bill if GOP members let them start debate on the legislation.

“I want to be clear: if Republicans join us in proceeding to this bill, I am prepared to hold a full-fledged debate worthy of the U.S. Senate,” Schumer said.

“What we can’t accept is a situation where one side is calling for bipartisan debate and bipartisan cooperation while the other refuses to even engage in a dialogue. If our Republican colleagues don’t like our ideas they have a responsibility to present their own,” he added.

–Updated at 3:40 p.m.

Tags Alex Padilla Amy Klobuchar Angus King Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Freedom to Vote Act Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Ossoff Jon Tester Mitch McConnell Raphael Warnock Tim Kaine voting rights

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