Republicans won't even debate 'For the People Act' as they flood states with voter suppression bills
Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would protect voting rights across the United States and improve ballot access. The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. The For the People Act is "the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965," says Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman. "It just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill."
TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show looking at the fight over voting rights. Senate Republicans are expected to use the filibuster today to block the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that would restore protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled the first procedural vote on the legislation today even though Democrats do not have the votes to move it forward. That's because two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — oppose eliminating the filibuster. Last week, Manchin offered a watered-down voting bill, but that, too, faced opposition from Republicans.
The Senate vote comes as Republican state lawmakers are passing sweeping measures to suppress the vote around the country. According to the Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have enacted more than 30 laws to restrict voting since the November election. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer accused Republicans of backing voter suppression.
MAJORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER: Let's dispense with this nonsense. There is no real principle behind these policies. They're not about election integrity. They're not about voter fraud. These policies have one purpose and one purpose only: making it harder for younger, poorer, nonwhite and typically Democratic voters to have — to access the ballot.
AMY GOODMAN: While today's Senate vote on the For the People Act is expected to fail, voting rights advocates say the fight has just begun. More than 70 groups have backed a national campaign called "Deadline for Democracy" to push senators to protect voting rights during the upcoming Senate recess.
We're joined now by Ari Berman, reporter for Mother Jones, his new cover story for the magazine headlined "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History." He is author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ari. Why don't you start off —
ARI BERMAN: Hi, Amy. Good to see you again.
AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us. Start off by explaining what the For the People Act is and exactly what is happening today.
ARI BERMAN: The For the People Act is the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would expand voting access for millions of Americans through policies like automatic and Election Day registration, two weeks of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, preventing discriminatory voter ID laws and voter purging, public financing of elections, a ban on partisan gerrymandering — all of that for federal elections. So, it would set really expansive rules for federal elections in all 50 states, so you have the same right to vote if you live in Oregon compared to if you live in Texas.
And what's happening is that Republicans are going to block a vote on whether to even debate this bill. The vote today in the Senate is not a vote on the For the People Act; it's a vote to even debate the For the People Act. And so, it just goes to show you how afraid the Republican Party is of democracy that they won't even debate legislation to make it easier to vote, let alone vote on the actual bill.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Ari, given the fact that the Republicans have signaled that they're going to do everything possible to kill the bill, why do you feel — what's the sense of why the Democrats have decided to press for a vote?
ARI BERMAN: Well, they want to show how obstructionist Republicans are being. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is building a case here that Republicans have now blocked the January 6 commission, which had strong bipartisan support. They have blocked votes on paycheck fairness. They are blocking votes on gun control, on climate change and a whole host of other popular issues. And they are blocking a vote on the most fundamental right in democracy, the right to vote. And so, he wants to lay out a case of all of the Republican obstruction to convince Democrats that they need to either abolish or pare down the filibuster in order to pass these critical bills. Now, I don't know if they're going to succeed in doing that. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, some other Democrats have been very steadfast they will not weaken or get rid of the filibuster. Nonetheless, Schumer is hoping that Republican obstruction will give them no other choice.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned Manchin. He was backing another voting rights act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Could you talk about the differences between the two and what's happened with even the one that Manchin was backing?
ARI BERMAN: The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore a key part of the Voting Rights Act, that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, that requires states with a long history of discrimination, like Georgia and Texas, to once again have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Now, what the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act does is it blocks new voter suppression efforts in states with a history of discrimination, both in the past and present, but it would not block voter suppression laws that are already on the books, nor would it put in place policies to make it easier to vote nationwide. That's what the For the People Act does.
And so, these bills are really meant to work together. The For the People Act is meant to expand voting access all across the board, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is supposed to stop voter suppression in the places where voter suppression has historically been most prevalent. It's not an either/or thing. That's what Manchin has said, that he wants one bill, not the other, although now he's backing a revised For the People Act. But these bills really were viewed by voting rights advocates as two bills that were supposed to work together so that there would be expansive federal legislation protecting the right to vote.
AMY GOODMAN: And if you can explain — in what Manchin has proposed, Stacey Abrams, the leading voting rights activist in the country, from Georgia, has come out and endorsed, saying this would be acceptable — though McConnell says he wouldn't accept it — and accepted his idea of voter ID, though that voter ID could be any number of kinds of ID. Is that right, Ari? Can you explain this, the significance of Abrams endorsing Manchin's revision of the bill?
ARI BERMAN: Yeah, I think most Democrats would rather see something passed rather than nothing, when it comes to protecting voting rights. And Manchin's proposal is a mixed bag, but it has a lot of policies that voting rights advocates support. Manchin wants Election Day to be a national holiday. He wants a ban on partisan gerrymandering. He wants automatic voter registration. He wants two weeks of early voting. He wants more disclosure of dark money. Those are all things that voting rights advocates strongly support.
Now, there are some things that they're not so crazy about. Manchin supports a less restrictive version of voter ID. It's not the same voter ID laws that have been implemented in places like Texas, but it basically says, if you don't have photo ID, you can still vote with things like utility bills. So, that's not quite as bad as strict ID. He would still allow some version of voter purging.
So, there are things in there that are good in Manchin's proposal. There are things in there that are bad. But the point is, no Republicans have come out to support his proposal, so the question is: Why are Democrats compromising over voting rights, when Republicans won't even support that compromise to begin with? Why not introduce and pass legislation to actually solve the problem, if Republicans aren't going to support it to begin with? Use the power you have, because the other side is not going to accommodate you regardless.
AMY GOODMAN: Ari, you recently reported about how dark money groups are writing Republican voter suppression bills across the country. Your piece featured leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer, speaking at a gathering in Tucson, Arizona, in April.
JESSICA ANDERSON: Iowa was the first state that we got to work in, and we did it quickly, and we did it quietly. Honestly, nobody noticed. At the end of the day, the bill that Governor Kemp signed and the Georgia Legislature marshaled through had eight key provisions that Heritage recommended. … We're working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills. In some cases, we actually draft them for them, or we have a sentinel, on our behalf, give them the model legislation, so it has that grassroots, you know, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.
AMY GOODMAN: OK. So that's leaked video of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a former Trump administration staffer. Explain the significance of what she's saying.
ARI BERMAN: This was a really explosive video that Mother Jones published in conjunction with the watchdog group Documented, who obtained the video, showing that Heritage Action, the sister group of the Heritage Foundation, one of the largest right-wing think tanks, was actually writing model legislation for the states to make it harder to vote. They brag in the video that they wrote 19 provisions of a Texas bill, eight provisions of a Georgia bill, three provisions of an Iowa bill.
So you have a dark money group — we don't know its donors — raising millions of dollars from secret billionaire donors, who are writing legislation making it harder to vote all across the country. And Republicans have portrayed this legislation as organic, bottom-up legislation responding to the worries of their constituents, when in fact you have dark money groups in Washington that are exporting a voter suppression agenda to the states.
And that's the exact thing that the For the People Act would stop. The connection between dark money and voter suppression is exactly what the For the People Act targets. And what Heritage is doing is they are spending $24 million to make it harder to vote in eight battleground states. And they are trying to block H.R. 1, which they say will destroy our democracy. And they are specifically targeting people like Joe Manchin to get them to oppose H.R. 1 and to keep the filibuster to prevent voting rights legislation from passing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ari, you mentioned the $24 million that are being raised for suppression. There was a report in The New York Times today that a Democratic-leaning PAC, Priorities USA, is putting up $20 million for voter education and registration before the upcoming midterm elections. Could you talk about this whole battle over voter suppression in a historical context, its relationship to past efforts to suppress the vote in American history?
ARI BERMAN: Yeah, well, there's a lot of echoes about the voter suppression that's happening right now and the voter suppression that happened in the past. That's what my Mother Jones cover story about Jim Crow was about. The pattern that existed during the Jim Crow era and during Reconstruction was that you had new voters turn out — Black voters were enfranchised; that was followed by violence, fraud, intimidation to try to prevent Blacks from voting; then that was followed by attempts to change the laws to prevent Blacks from voting altogether, when states like Mississippi rushed to change their constitutions. And the same pattern is playing out today, which you had much higher turnout in 2020; you had new people turn out; that was followed by an attempt to try to overturn the election; then that was followed by states rewriting their laws to achieve the same outcomes as the insurrection.
And one of the key parallels between the Jim Crow era and today was that Congress had an opportunity to protect voting rights. They passed a bill in 1890 to protect voting rights. It passed the House; it was killed by a filibuster in the Senate. And that's why disenfranchisement laws were allowed to go forward in places like Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama and all across the Jim Crow South. And the same kind of pattern is playing out today, which is that Republicans are rushing to disenfranchise voters, the House has passed legislation to stop it, but it's going to be killed by a Senate filibuster. If that happens, Republicans are going to be able to undermine voting rights in the states for decades, and Democrats are going to be virtually powerless to be able to stop it.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask you about Georgia and Arizona. Arizona is finishing up, they say, this week their — what some call their "fraudit," the audit of so-called voter fraud. And many are concerned that's going to be used as a model around the country, including Georgia. At the same time, you have Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger saying he's removed over 100,000 names from the state voter rolls, saying most of them were linked to change of address or from residences where election mail had been returned to sender. And you have the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp, saying there's "nothing Jim Crow" about the recent voter suppression law passed in Georgia. Put all of that together.
ARI BERMAN: Well, what Republicans are doing is they are weaponizing the big lie on every front. They are keeping alive the lie that the election was stolen, through these bogus audits. They are making it harder to vote in so many different ways. The Georgia law that Brian Kemp says has nothing to do with Jim Crow has 16 different provisions making it harder for Democratic constituencies and communities of color to be able to vote, which is why Stacey Abrams calls it "Jim Crow in a suit and tie." They're actually making it easier to overturn election results. They are purging local election officials. They're taking over county election boards. They're taking over state election boards. In 14 different states, they are politicizing election administration in an unprecedented way.
So, it's a "flood the zone" strategy when it comes to voter suppression. It's not one tactic; it's not another tactic. It's all of these different tactics to make it harder to vote. And that's why federal legislation is so important, because if the Congress doesn't step in to block these voter suppression efforts, these attempts to overturn elections, Republicans are just going to be emboldened, and they're going to go further and further and further. And the crazy things we're seeing in Arizona, the crazy things we're seeing in Georgia, these are going to become the new normal, if Congress doesn't act.
AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, thanks so much for being with us, reporter for Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. We will link to your piece, "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History."
Next up, we look at the climate crisis and the debate over infrastructure spending. Stay with us.
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