Jul 19, 2023

Reintroduction of Freedom to Vote Act

Congressional Democrats Announce Reintroduction of Freedom to Vote Act Transcript
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Congressional Democrats Announce Reintroduction of Freedom to Vote Act. Read the transcript here.


Senator Amy Klobuchar (00:00):

… here today, King, Manchin, Merkley, Padilla, Tester, and Senator Warnock, who’s also here with us today. The group of us negotiated one hot summer. We came up with an agreement and every single Democrat once again, including that group, is on this bill. That is no small thing because we had to make some changes and we had to get agreement. That’s true today as it was before. Secondly, why I’m excited is because this bill and the template that it created was used by state legislatures across the country. Some of the states, and our voting rights advocates know this, including mine, who was already number one for voter turnout, okay, just had to get that in, made additional changes that were really good, that are embraced by our group and in this bill.

At the same time, as the two leaders noted, we have seen backwards action. It is no coincidence that after 160 million Americans voted in the 2020 election, more than ever before, there has been a flood of state election laws meant to limit the freedom to vote, to close poll locations on a massive scale, to purge eligible voters from the roles, attack voting by mail and drop boxes. I think about Senator Warnock’s state where they attempted to ban voting on Saturday after reducing greatly the runoff time. I think about what they did in Texas. So this is a threat that’s real, the voting people, the American people, understood this in this last election in 2022, and it’s going to be a threat again. Because as Hakeem pointed out, when people lose elections, what are they supposed to do? They’re supposed to change their candidates and change their policies. Instead, what we do, we have the Donald Trump looming above us, his shadow with the same rhetoric, the same stuff, and the same policies.

So instead, what are they trying to do? They’re trying to change who votes. They’re trying to limit people from voting. And when I think about those people in Wisconsin, the beginning of the pandemic in their garbage bags in the rain with homemade masks standing in these long lines just to exercise their right to vote, or the people in the hot sun in Georgia, military people who’ve signed up to serve our country, and then they’ve got to be told, “You go to this poll location and that poll location, that poll location.” That’s why we did this bill. It is simply about setting minimum standards for voting. You can go beyond them, but it has minimum standards that will work for our country.

So I’m excited about this. I’m excited about Representative Sewell, about the John Lewis Voting Rights Act because remember, we made great progress state by state, but what we really need is this federal law. So we come to you today with a bill that is really the product of a lot of work of a lot of people. And I am very happy that we’re moving forward because it is Hubert Humphrey, one more Minnesota note, in the 1948 Democratic Convention who called on our nation to devote itself to the cause of civil rights. Three quarters of a century later, our fight continues. I want to thank all of you for being here, and I turn it over to the great champion in the House of Representatives for the For the People Act, and now for this, John Sarbanes.

Rep. John Sarbanes (03:27):

Hey, everybody. Thank you very much, Senator Klobuchar for your incredible leadership on the Senate side with respect to this continuing effort, what is a legacy commitment of Congressional Democrats. I want to salute Leader Schumer for deciding again to make this the number one priority in this chamber. I want to thank my leader, Hakeem Jeffries, who’s done the same on the House side, Ranking Member Morelle, Ranking Member Sewell, Whip Clark, who is here with us, and frankly all of our colleagues in the House who’ve contributed to this bill over the last three Congresses and made it as powerful and transformational as it is.

I do want to give special salute to the coalition that’s represented here today. You were the ones that brought us to this effort through your years of work on it, refusing to give up and helping us pull together something as comprehensive and broad as this piece of legislation is, the Freedom to Vote Act. This is a relay race, and what I mean by that is if you look over the last three Congresses in the 116th Congress, it was H.R. 1 in the House because it could be. In the 117th Congress. It was H. R. 1 in the House and S. 1 in the Senate because it could be. In the 118th Congress, it is S. 1 in the Senate because it can be, and Leader Jeffries has made it the highest priority we can make it in the House, which is H. R. 11. So every time Democrats get the chance to show what this priority is, we show again and again that the commitment is strong.

There are two expectations when Americans step into the political town square that they have of what their civic engagement can mean, basic expectations. The first is when it comes to choosing their leaders, will their vote and their voice be respected and treasured in that space? Well, the Freedom to Vote Act meets that expectation, as Senator Klobuchar was saying. It removes obstacles to the ballot box by establishing uniform standards on registration, on voting, on the counting of votes, which we have to do to make sure that we have integrity in our system. It eliminates partisan gerrymandering. That’s part of the Freedom to Vote Act. It stops the intimidation and harassment of voters, poll workers, election judges. It stops election subversion. As the late Elijah Cummings used to say when I was out on the trail with him, “Come on now.” This is not how a democracy should operate, trying to undermine the voice of the people. The Freedom to Vote Act will restore that with these minimum standards.

The second basic expectation that the public has when they step into the political space is that the elected officials they send to Washington will not be corrupted by big dark money. And the Freedom to Vote Act meets that expectation as well. It demands transparency and disclosure of dark money, and it democratizes the way campaigns are funded to reduce lawmaker dependency on special interest money and insider money. So the Freedom to Vote Act is about basics, strengthening our democracy and fighting corruption. That’s what the American people want to see, and that’s what Democrats here in Washington are determined to deliver. And now it’s my pleasure to introduce to one of the work group members, Senator Kaine, who worked with his colleagues, Senator Warnock and others to help pull this together behind Senator Klobuchar’s leadership in the last Congress, and they’re doing it again. Thank you very much, Senator Kaine.

Senator Tim Kaine (07:23):

Hey, good afternoon. It’s great to be with you all. What a great group, and I’m honored to be part of this effort and to stand with these wonderful colleagues. I’m particularly proud to be here for three reasons. Number one, for 18 years before I got into state politics, I was a civil rights lawyer and I fought discrimination primarily in housing, employment, did voting rights work. So it feels full circle for me to stand together with colleagues and come back to something that was really the beginning of my public service career.

Second, not so pleasant. I occupy a seat in the Senate that has a history to it. I occupy the Byrd seat in the Senate. Now, most people, when you talk about Byrd in the Senate, people think about Robert Byrd of West Virginia. I’m talking about Harry Byrd Jr. and Harry Byrd III who occupied the Senate seat I hold for about 50 years in Virginia, and they perfected the art of standing up and battling against every civil rights initiative there was using every trick and tactic and filibuster they could to slow down progress, particularly on voting rights bills. My Senate seat needs a bit of a rejuvenation, a bit of a home rehab project or even exorcism. You can pick what you want. But I’m proud to be standing here in the Byrd seat with a Democratic colleague in Virginia, Mark Warner, battling for voting rights.

The third reason I’m very happy to be on this effort is I realized something when I was barricaded in the Capitol on January 6th. We see from the other side a lot of people trying to downplay it, it was a tourist event or it was right. It was an effort to disenfranchise 80 million people. 80 million people had voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And this was a well-timed, coordinated, violent effort designed for a particular moment to disenfranchise the Americans who had voted for our president and vice president. The only response to an instance of massive disenfranchisement of that kind is to guarantee that people’s franchise is respected, and that’s what this bill does.

Last thing I’ll say is we should have Republicans on this bill with us. If you look at the history of the Republican Party, 15th Amendment, women’s right to vote, 18 year old right to vote, producing votes for the Voting Rights Act, producing votes for the Voting Rights Act reauthorizations, you look at the history of the Republican Party, they were a good voting rights party about until the time of President Obama. They have completely sold out their heritage as a voting rights party, and I’m standing right here and telling them they should come back to it. In Virginia, we dramatically expanded the right to participate in 2019 and 2020. And a Republican then ran and won under massive expansion of the franchise by 1.8 points. So you would think the lesson in Virginia would be, “Well, I guess maybe Republicans could look at that and decide what they want to do is expand the franchise.” No, they are right now trying to roll back the rules in Virginia under which they won a couple of years ago.

We’ll carry this burden on our shoulders if we need to, but the Republicans should come back to the history that they had for a very long time of being a pro Voting Rights Act party. I’m now really happy to bring up New York Representative Joe Morelle from New York’s 25th, who happens to live in the Rochester area, Rochester home of fantastic voting rights advocates like Frederick Douglass. It’s great to bring up Representative Morelle. Sir.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (10:52):

All right. Very Good.

Rep. Joe Morelle (10:52):

Thank you. Thank you. I am humbled to be with such an extraordinary group of colleagues here from both houses, and I’m equally humbled to be with all of you well-respected pro-democracy groups. None of this would’ve been possible without your intense commitment and perseverance, so we remain deeply grateful to all of you for all the work you do. And I think the number of people in this room is testament to your enduring support for this bill. That also speaks to the ideals of our party. We believe democracy works best only when everyone can participate. It is at our very core and Leaders Schumer and Jeffries, before them, Speaker Pelosi and the others standing with me value greatly those ideals. I’d like to take a moment to thank Leader Jeffries for giving me the opportunity to help lead this effort as the Ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee.

As the senator mentioned, I’m a son of Rochester, New York, a community whose history is synonymous with expanding access to the ballot box. We’re the proud home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, two of America’s most passionate, iconic, and well-known advocates for voting rights. Frederick Douglass wrote The North Star newspaper from what is now the heart of downtown Rochester. We take very seriously our ties to that sacred history in my community, and so we continue the fight that Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony began so long ago to help bring America closer to its foundational promise. We carry their legacy with us as we work towards our own North Star, which is protecting the right to vote of every single American. So after being arrested in 1872 for having the temerity to cast a ballot for president, Susan B. Anthony wrote, “Our Democratic Republican government is based on the idea of the natural right of each individual member to a voice and a vote in making and executing the laws.” That is exactly the point.

Now it’s our turn, our turn to ensure every American has an equal say in the decisions that government makes in their lives, our turn to stand against disenfranchisement and fight for the very bedrock of our democracy. And it’s our time to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. Thank you. And with that, let me bring to the podium, I was in his state just a few weeks ago, Representative Sewell and I, and listening to the Republicans talk about creating a national footprint for S.B. 202 in Georgia. Hard to believe that that would happen. Only in some alternative reality does that make sense. But Senator, we were there, we were pleased with the hospitality of Georgia, but we wish you were joined with us. You would’ve given a sane voice to the proceedings. But you can give a sane voice now. Thank you for joining us, sir. Senator Warnock.

Senator Raphael Warnock (13:43):

Thank you so very much. My parishioner, John Lewis, who passed into the light three years ago this week, said that the vote is sacred. He was right. And if we agree that the vote is sacred, surely the effort to undermine people’s ability to vote is immoral. There’s nothing more important for us to do in this moment than to preserve the house of our democracy. This year alone, some 320 bills have been introduced in state legislatures across some 45 states pushing voter suppression. 11 of those states have already passed voter suppression laws this year. So we are in the midst of a 911 emergency in our democracy, and I have seen it up close.

I know I’m standing here, I won my election, but let us not forget what had to happen for me to win, how we had to push back. They cut the runoff period in half after they saw our win the last time. And as we entered into the runoff, state officials in Georgia misinterpreting some old Georgia law said that there could not be voting on the first Saturday of the runoff. They said, “We’d let you do it, but our hands are tied.” And so I untied their hands, I sued them, and we won the election. And the folks who said their hands were tied then showed their hands because they then appealed the decision, asked for emergency relief. Relief from what? The people’s voices? And so we had to sue them just to get a fighting chance.

There’s nothing more important for us to do than to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. I’m so glad to stand here with Senator Klobuchar, Leader Schumer, Leader Jeffries, all of my colleagues in this effort. The reason why we can’t get movement on the things that the American people agree on is because their voices are being squeezed out of their democracy. There is more agreement right now between ordinary people, Democrats and Republicans than we see reflected in the legislation that gets passed. Why? Because the people’s voices are being squeezed out of their democracy. So it impacts our ability to get progress on reproductive rights, on gun safety, on responding to the existential crisis of climate change. We can do better than this.

And so on this week, I’m remembering my parishioner, John Lewis, who along with Hosea Williams crossed that Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and he didn’t have any reason to believe he could win, but he kept walking. He kept walking across that bridge. And so we need to find ourselves standing with him. Democrats and Republicans, we need to find ourselves on the right side of history. And I want some of my colleagues who marched with him time and time again as he commemorated what happened in Selma, if you stood with John Lewis on that bridge, you ought to stand with him and where he would be standing on this issue. Don’t just stand up to be counted. Stand up where it counts. This should be a bipartisan effort, and we won’t rest until that happens.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (17:37):

Excellent. Very good.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell (17:45):

I’m Congresswoman Terri Sewell and I proudly represent Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, which includes the historic cities of Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and my hometown of Selma, Alabama. It was in my hometown of Selma nearly 60 years ago when John Lewis and the foot soldiers shed blood on a bridge for the equal right of every American to vote. It was their sacrifice that gave us the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But today, today we know that old battles have become new again. Across this nation, mega extremists are working to restrict voter access, to undermine faith in our elections and to dilute the power of the Black vote. We saw it in 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and unleash a wave of voting restrictions all across this nation. We saw it in 2020 when the former president spread false claims of voter fraud in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. And we saw it last week when Republicans passed their national voter suppression bill on the House side through the House Administration Committee.

One thing is clear. Our nation is really at an inflection point. Now more than ever, we must take action to protect our democracy and safeguard that sacred right to vote. And that’s exactly what the Freedom to Vote Act will do. The Freedom to Vote Act would protect access to the ballot box by ensuring that we have automatic voter registration, same day registration, and early voting as a bare minimum. In the state of Alabama, we only can vote on a Tuesday from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. This bill will give the freedom of all Americans to vote and to vote when they have an opportunity to do so. That is why making voting a national holiday is something that we’re pushing in the Freedom to Vote Act. At a time when local elected officials are facing unprecedented threats, the Freedom to Vote Act would also provide resources to protect election workers so that they can conduct accessible and transparent elections. As the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Elections, I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this bill and to demand that Speaker McCarthy bring it up to the House for a vote.

But our fight does not end here. In September, I look forward to reintroducing the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This bill will fully restore the protections of the VRA. My bill would also prevent jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination from restricting voter access. Together with the Freedom to Vote Act, these two bills will ensure that every eligible American will have access to the ballot box. I want to thank all of the leaders here today. I especially want to thank our stakeholders. You are in the trenches with us each and every day, and we know that you will stand with us not only when we introduce bills, but hopefully when we pass bills. You will be there when we’re frustrated because we can’t seem to get things passed because of a filibuster. You will be there. You’re in the foxhole, and I say thank you.

In ending, I just want to remind us all of what John Lewis said. He said that ours is not the fight of one week, one month, or one year. Ours is a fight of a lifetime. And we will continue to keep the faith and to get into good trouble.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (22:00):

[inaudible 00:21:58]. We just have just a few minutes. Senator Schumer has to run out. Any questions? Any questions? Are we good? All right, thank you, everyone. Appreciate it. Okay. Thank you.

[inaudible 00:22:17].

Speaker 7 (22:10):

Hey, Mark. Good to see you. How you doing? All the things [inaudible 00:26:19].

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