Democrats Know Voting Rights Bill Will Fail, Pushing Forward Anyway to Pressure GOP

The fight to enact the For the People Act, a piece of voting rights legislation Democrats have tried to pass for months, is once again top priority when the Senate returns in the fall despite a lack of a strategy to defeat Republican opposition.

The measure, which Republicans blocked for debate in June, would reshape the electoral process, regulate big money in politics, limit partisan considerations in the drawing of congressional districts and expand options for voting.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced his plan for floor action in September for the bill on Wednesday. While Democrats acknowledged that the effort will likely be stymied by Republicans, the action serves to demonstrate Republicans' unwillingness to compromise.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the bill "a solution looking for a problem."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Pelosi at Press Conference for HR-1
The For the People Act will be a top priority when the Senate returns in the fall, according to Democrats. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, right, attends a press conference marking the one year anniversary of the House passing HR-1, the For The People Act, March 10, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

That could help make a case to moderate Democrats that there is little chance of making headway on this key issue for the party unless changes are made to Senate rules that require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

"Republicans have formed a total wall of opposition against progress on voting rights," Schumer said just after 4:30 a.m. "That's what we have come to: total Republican intransigence."

His remarks came after a marathon voting session that paved the way for Democrats' big-ticket spending goals before the Senate adjourned for its August recess.

"After ramming through this reckless taxing and spending spree, here in the dead of night, they also want to start tearing up the ground rules of our democracy," McConnell said, "writing new ones, of course, on a purely partisan basis."

Democratic leaders have said the voting legislation would serve as a powerful counterbalance to a wave of new restrictive voting laws approved in Republican-controlled states after the 2020 election. But the effort stalled in the Senate months ago.

Liberal activists have advocated for the elimination of the filibuster, though a handful of moderate Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have rejected such an approach, denying Democrats the votes needed to make the change.

That's where the early Wednesday push to take up the legislation came.

"These are important points to build a case that Republicans are going to filibuster everything and are bad-faith actors on this topic," said Adam Bozzi, a longtime Senate aide who is now helping lead a $30 million campaign to build support for the bill.

President Joe Biden has faced increasing pressure from the party's base to get more involved in the fight over voting legislation. Many activists say Biden has only paid lip service to the issue, instead prioritizing a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which the Senate approved Tuesday.

With that done, they hope he will be more engaged on the issue.

"The White House must now prioritize voting rights legislation with the same level of urgency and commitment as the bipartisan infrastructure bill," NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. "Time is running out."

Though once an area where there could be bipartisan compromise, election laws have become an increasingly partisan flashpoint after former President Donald Trump falsely blamed voting fraud for his 2020 election loss. Republican and Democratic election officials across the country certified the outcome and Trump's own attorney general said he saw no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

But it's also proved difficult for Senate Democrats to unify their own caucus around the issue. Manchin initially balked at voting for the bill, though he agreed to do so after Senate leaders pledged to work with him to narrow the measure's focus.

After weeks of work, they neared completion of a bill. But that's not what they voted on Wednesday.

Instead, they took a piecemeal approach. First, Democrats tried to take up the For the People Act, which Republicans blocked.

After that, Schumer tried to advance other popular provisions from the bill, which would limit partisan gerrymandering and force so-called dark money groups to disclose their donors. The provisions were broken into two separate bills that Republicans blocked.

"It's publicly proving that the Republicans are going to obstruct everything," said Fred Wertheimer, the founder of the nonprofit group Democracy 21, who helped write the initial bill. "It sets the stage for when they come back [from recess] and figure out how to move forward."

Time is of the essence if Democrats want to get the measure signed into law before 2022 midterm elections.

"There is a tight deadline for getting all this done," said Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.

Voting Rights Rally
The Democratic party base has pushed for President Joe Biden to get involved in the fight for voting legislation. From left, Transformative Justice Coalition President and Founder Barbara Arnwine, accompanied by the brothers of the late Representative John Lewis, Henry Lewis and Samuel Lewis, Democratic Texas State Representative Ron Reynolds from Missouri City, and the niece of the late Leis, Angela Lewis Warren, speaks during a voting rights rally on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo