In a party-line vote Tuesday, a Senate committee deadlocked 9-9 on a bill that would nullify voter ID and other state election requirements after rejecting multiple Republican-proposed amendments.
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee debated the amendments and merits of the legislation, S 1, which sponsors call the For the People Act.
Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said that although Democrats and Republicans deadlocked on the measure, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., could bring the bill to the Senate floor for action.
Because the Senate is split 50-50, committees now have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats hold a majority because Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, can cast tie-breaking votes on the floor.
Some Republicans label the legislation as the “Corrupt Politicians Act,” noting provisions in the 817-page bill that would scrap states’ voter identification requirements, prevent updating voter registration lists, and mandate the controversial practice of ballot harvesting.
Opponents say Democrats’ legislation would take over—or nationalize—local and state election procedures to benefit themselves.
The bill would create a partisan advantage on the Federal Election Commission, a panel that since its inception in 1975 has been made up of an even number of Democrats and Republicans.
And the legislation would require that an unelected bureaucracy draw up congressional districts—which now are determined by elected state legislatures.
Most amendments failed on a 9-9 committee vote. Amendments included proposals to eliminate the provision on ballot harvesting, which allows political operatives to collect absentee ballots; preserve voter ID laws; allow state legislatures to continue drawing up congressional districts; and scrap Election Day voter registration.
Another failed amendment called for a “sense of the Senate” resolution to condemn the corporate boycott of Georgia over the state’s recent election reforms. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., opposed the amendment, which also failed in a 9-9 tie vote.
The committee also rejected proposals to investigate Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $350 million in donations to local election administration, which research shows mostly favored Democratic-leaning areas.
Some amendments passed, including one clarifying language on military voting and another establishing qualifications for those serving on a redistricting commission—which the bill would establish to replace state legislatures in drawing congressional districts.
The House already has passed its version of Democrats’ legislation, known as HR 1.
Here are eight key points from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee’s markup Tuesday of S 1.
1. Cruz on ‘Jim Crow 2.0’
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took one of the Democrats’ favorite lines about the Old South’s Jim Crow laws and turned it back on them.
“This legislation, I believe, is the most radical legislation the Senate has considered in the nine years I’ve been here,” Cruz said. “It is the most dangerous legislation pending before the United States Congress.”
The Texas Republican said the Jim Crow laws that used to bar blacks from jobs, housing, public accommodations, and voting were designed to ensure Democratic politicians’ election victories. He drew a parallel to the legislation under consideration.
Those Jim Crow laws were drafted by Democrats, they were implemented by Democrats, and they kept Democrats in power. Now, today’s talking point repeated in the media is that that was the Democrats of yesterday, not the Democrats of today. Well today, the Democrats are doing it again. This legislation—to use a phrase that is popularized in the media recently—is Jim Crow 2.0. …
This legislation is designed to ensure that Democrats never lose another election. This legislation would register millions of illegal aliens to vote. It is intended to do that. It is intended to do that because Democrats have made the decision that millions of illegal aliens voting are likely to vote for Democrats. … This [bill] would register a vast number of criminals and felons to vote, because Democrats have made the decision that criminals and felons are likely to vote for Democrats.
This legislation strikes down virtually every voter integrity law adopted at the state level. Over 70% of Americans support voter ID laws. Over 60% of African Americans support voter ID laws, 29 states have voter ID laws on the books. What does this legislation do? Strikes them all down.
Ballot harvesting—31 states prohibit ballot harvesting. Why? Because it is a corrupt practice where paid operatives handle the ballots of someone else, and it has repeatedly led to instances of stealing votes.
2. Schumer: ‘Stench of Oppression’
Schumer, the Senate majority leader, argued that the Senate must pass the legislation because of election reforms being enacted in states such as Georgia, Iowa, and Florida, which he said suppress voting.
“Don’t tell us these laws are about voter fraud. You are more likely in America to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud,” Schumer said in opening remarks. “Don’t tell us these are about strengthening our elections. Shortening the early vote doesn’t strengthen our elections. Limiting the number of ballot drop boxes doesn’t strengthen our elections. Criminalizing food and water to voters doesn’t strengthen our elections.”
These laws are about one thing and one thing alone: making it harder for Americans to vote. They are reprehensible, in my judgment. They are anti-democratic in the judgment of most and they carry the stench of oppression. In a democracy, when you lose an election, you try to persuade more voters to vote for you.
You don’t try to ban the other side from voting. … That’s what dictators do. So what are my Republican colleagues in the Senate going to do? These laws carry the stench of oppression, the smell of bigotry. Are you going to stamp it out? Or are you going to allow it to be spread?
3. McConnell: ‘If You Can Write the Rules’
“If you can write the rules, you can win the game,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in opening remarks.
“For multiple years now, Democrats have called this sweeping bill their top priority. You just heard the majority leader make a totally partisan speech about it,” McConnell said. “There is nothing bipartisan about this. This is cooked up at the Democratic National Committee and designed to advantage one side and disadvantage the other.”
Our democracy is not in crisis and we are not going to let one party take over under the pretense of saving it. …
This legislation would let Washington Democrats dictate the terms of their own reelection races by rewriting all 50 states’ election laws. Popular safeguards like voter ID would be neutered. Ludicrous practices like ballot harvesting would be mandatory coast to coast.
Democrats have a narrow majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate. But they want to make themselves the board of elections for every county and state in America. Voting regulations are just a start. This legislation would deliberately turn the Federal Election Commission into a partisan Democratic panel. …
The marketing has changed constantly. This has gone from an election security bill to an ethics bill to a racial justice bill. Who knows what it will be labeled tomorrow? What doesn’t change is the substance, because the intent doesn’t change.
McConnell proposed an amendment to keep the FEC as a bipartisan body with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. The amendment failed.
4. Klobuchar Invokes Jan. 6 Capitol Riot
Klobuchar, the committee chairwoman, brought up the Jan. 6 riot in which a mob forcibly entered the Capitol as lawmakers met to certify the Electoral College’s election of Joe Biden as president over incumbent Donald Trump.
“We were reminded in a very visceral way on Jan. 6 that it is up to us to protect against threats to our democracy, to ensure that our democracy succeeds,” Klobuchar said. “Our committee is doing important work in the aftermath of that horrific day.”
The Minnesota Democrat tied the riot to the legislation, which she portrayed as pro-democracy.
“As we move forward, I can think of no more vital task than bolstering our democracy, and this bill was introduced to do just that by making sure our government works for the people,” Klobuchar said, adding:
What we learned from the 2020 election is that you can simultaneously make elections fair and secure while giving voters options that work for them. In fact, the two go hand in hand.
In the wake of that historic election, when so many Americans cast their ballots in the middle of a pandemic, the effort to undermine the freedom to vote in future elections has been coordinated and overwhelming, with over 360 bills introduced in 47 state legislatures this year to roll back voting rights. …
Thirty-eight bills to restrict voting have passed at least one state legislature.
Even Klobuchar’s “manager’s amendment” to extend deadlines for local election officials to implement the new rules for Election Day voter registration and for expanded mail-in voting failed to break the recurring 9-9 vote on the 18-member committee, which has an equal number from each party.
5. ‘Money in Pockets of Political Campaigns’
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., proposed an amendment to strike the public financing provision of the legislation. Under the provision, the government pays the campaigns of federal candidates $6 for every $1 raised in small donations—that is, for every donation under $200.
“Supporters of this go out of their way to argue the funds spent aren’t taxpayer dollars,” said Blunt, the committee’s ranking member. “They are funds that came from assessments placed on top of fines and penalties paid by tax cheats. So taxpayers shouldn’t worry about the funds going to candidates.”
“I understand why you would want to say that,” Blunt told Democratic colleagues, adding:
It’s clear that all funds that flow through the U.S. Treasury are public funds, they belong to the American people. These would be funds that belong to the American people going to politicians. Under this amendment, every senator that sits on this committee would be eligible for up to $80 million for their Senate campaigns. Every incumbent senator would—over six years—be able to collect a total of $1.8 billion.
That’s not to mention [his or her] opponent, who also would be eligible for these funds. I think this is one of those things that the American people would be most opposed to in this bill. … This works only to put money in the pockets of political campaigns. I think it’s a big mistake.
Klobuchar argued that the legislation makes taking public funds voluntary, and that candidates still could fund their campaigns entirely with large private donations if they chose to do so.
She argued that public financing keeps wealthy special interests out of politics.
“Secret money is flooding our elections, denying voters the right to know who is influencing their vote,” Klobuchar said, adding: “We need to take these threats to democracy head-on with immediate action to restore Americans’ confidence in our political system.”
The committee rejected Blunt’s amendment even as Republicans, including McConnell, spoke in favor of it.
“It would have the federal government take public money and send it directly to political campaigns so Americans can subsidize robocalls, junk mail, and TV ads for candidates they disagree with,” the minority leader said of the bill as written.
6. ‘Corporate Media’ vs. Individual Speech
On another campaign finance front, the Democrats’ bill includes restrictions on political speech such as requiring disclosure of donors to independent groups that buy political ads.
This would be similar to the donor disclosure requirements that state governments tried to impose on civil rights groups in the 1950s, which could subject donors to intimidation.
The legislation also would authorize the Internal Revenue Service to investigate and consider the political and policy positions of nonprofit organizations when they apply for tax-exempt status.
Cruz opposed what he said are restrictions on political speech in the bill. However, in a proposed amendment, the Texas Republican called for “corporate media” to be subject to the same speech restrictions that the bill would impose on individuals.
Klobuchar spoke against the Cruz amendment, asserting that the legislation would not curb political speech. With little discussion, the amendment died in a 9-9 vote.
7. ‘State After State After State’
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., became frustrated at the suggestion that states should determine their own election laws with a variety of rules.
“When that variety involves targeting communities to keep them from voting to bias the outcome of an election, that is wrong,” Markey said. “It is an assault on we-the-people governance.”
He went on to make broad claims without offering specific evidence.
The Massachusetts Democrat insisted that such voter suppression occurs across the country:
Perhaps we’ll say, ‘Well, that would never happen.’ It happens on Election Day in state after state after state when the number of precinct locations is modified in communities you don’t want to vote; where the number of staff is reduced so there will be long lines; where information is put out to mislead voters about where those voting locations are; or even information put out to mislead voters, saying, ‘Hey, sorry you missed the election, the election was last week.’
Markey did not identify when and where any of these things happened.
“There is an antidote out of this type of effort to cheat Americans, targeted groups of Americans,” he said. “It is the items that have been identified in this bill.”
8. Voter Fraud Cases in Kentucky
McConnell, in later remarks during the markup session, gave specific examples of voter fraud cases in Kentucky.
“Since we are discussing voter fraud and the suggestion that our friends on the other side have made that this is kind of a nonexistent problem, I do think that is is worth noting that in my state in 2014, we had three people convicted of vote-buying and fraudulent use of absentee ballots,” McConnell said.
“Since 2010, 16 convicted of vote-buying; since 2010, three convicted of ineligible voting,” the Kentucky Republican continued, referring to his state. “So, I just want to make the point [that] we are talking about fraud. It is not the fact that this is a nonexistent problem. I don’t think that anyone has been arguing on our side that it is pervasive all over the country.”
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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