Schumer Tees Up September Voting Rights Battle After All-Night Vote-A-Rama

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 10: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) heads to his office in the U.S. Capitol Building on August 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate will vote today on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill ahead of August recess. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Chuck Schumer
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 10: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) heads to his office in the U.S. Capitol Building on August 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) carried out a series of procedural moves very early Wednesday morning to tee up a new voting rights push when the chamber returns from a month-long recess. 

He filed cloture on a vehicle that will be replaced with a bill being negotiated by a group of senators behind the scenes: a whittled-down For the People Act that incorporates some of Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) alterations to the original bill.

“Voting rights, voting rights, will be the first matter of legislative business when the Senate returns to session in September,” Schumer said Wednesday, adding: “It is my intention that the first amendment to the bill would be the text of a compromise bill that a group of senators are working on. Let me be very clear, this is a debate the Senate must have.” 

He also brought up three votes on democracy-related legislation on the tail end of a 14-hour vote-a-rama on the budget resolution early Wednesday. The first was on the For the People Act, the second on redistricting legislation and the third on a bill that would enhance campaign donation disclosure requirements, the DISCLOSE Act.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) blocked all three bills; Schumer had asked for unanimous consent, so it only took one senator to reject them.

“This bill would constitute a federal government takeover of elections,” Cruz said to a nearly empty chamber around 4 a.m. “It would constitute a massive power grab by Democrats.”

“We have reached a point in this chamber where Republicans appear to oppose any measure no matter how common sense to protect voting rights and strengthen our democracy,” Schumer shot back.

The voting rights push has been largely stagnant since Republicans filibustered the For the People Act back in June. The bill has no GOP support and won’t surpass the 60-vote threshold. 

With Manchin’s recently reiterated opposition to carving out a voting rights exception from the filibuster and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-AZ) continued devotion to the Senate rule, the future of voting rights legislation has seemed dim.

So Schumer is using one of the only tactics left to him: a war of attrition. He hopes that by bringing up a series of bill votes like the one Wednesday morning, he can make crystal clear to his two recalcitrant members that Republicans oppose and will continue to block all types of voting reform. He’s hammering the point that with the filibuster intact, no voting protections will pass and state-level Republicans will continue to gleefully pass laws making it harder to vote. That problem will only compound later this month, when Republican legislatures start redistricting their states to favor GOP candidates.

Sinema has often professed her support for the For the People Act, as negotiators are working on a narrower version of the bill. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA) are among those leading the effort. 

Warnock recently introduced another bill, called the Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021, which would make it a felony to intimidate or harass election officials to prevent them from doing their jobs and give those officials a pathway to sue in federal court if they’re removed for political purposes. He declined to say Tuesday whether that bill would be included in the package he’s helping craft.

“We have to find a way of making sure that partisan activists on the state level cannot undermine the voice of the people,” he told reporters, adding that the “details are still being worked out.”

Reporting has surfaced some dribs and drabs from the voting rights negotiation, including a sticking point over voter ID — Klobuchar wants the requirement to be just signature matching; Manchin wants universal voter ID, per the Wall Street Journal.  

While the effort is still coming together, Democratic senators of both the progressive and moderate bent indicated they were inclined to back it, though the package is destined to be pared down from the first attempt. 

“I’d be very surprised if I can’t support it,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told TPM Tuesday, adding that he has yet to see the negotiated package. 

“I want to see us protect the vote,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told TPM. “I also want to see us restrict gerrymandering and beat back the influence of dark money — all of those are in the current package, so that’s the right direction.” 

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