Mitch McConnell's Remembrance of John Lewis Prompts Criticism Over Stalled Voting Rights Legislation

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement on Congressman John Lewis' death Friday drew criticism from Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow over of a voting rights bill that is in legislative limbo.

Leader McConnell-John Lewis almost died marching for the Voting Rights Act. Why has a bill to restore that law been sitting on your desk for 225 days? Let's finally pass this bill next week and name it in honor of Rep. John Lewis.

— Sen. Debbie Stabenow (@SenStabenow) July 18, 2020

In his statement, McConnell praised Lewis for his work as a powerful voice in the civil rights movement and remembered joining hands with the congressman for a 2008 remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"The Senate and the nation mourn the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader who put his life on the line to fight racism, promote equal rights, and bring our nation into greater alignment with its founding principles," McConnell said.

Stabenow responded Saturday to McConnell's statement in a tweet, where she called for the senator to honor Lewis' memory by passing a bill pertaining to voting rights.

"John Lewis almost died marching for the Voting Rights Act. Why has a bill to restore that law been sitting on your desk for 225 days? Let's finally pass this bill next week and name it in honor of Rep. John Lewis," she wrote.

The bill that Stabenow was referring to is H.R. 4, an amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mother Jones reported that the bill would require federal approval in states before implementing new voting procedures to prevent voter discrimination.

"This bill establishes new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices in these areas may take effect," the bill's summary stated.

"For over a year, Leader McConnell has let nearly 400 bills that have passed the House pile up in his legislative graveyard including H.R. 4. She was calling on him to truly honor Rep. Lewis' life's work by passing the bill in the Senate next week," Stabenow's press secretary told Newsweek in an email.

Lewis played an integral part in the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. He also worked on H.R. 1-For the People Act of 2019. According to Mother Jones, the bill was passed in the House, but was not voted on in the Senate. Lewis was a champion for the bill, calling for the reforms listed in it.

The bill states that its goal is "to expand Americans' access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes." Parts of the bill include automatic, online and same-day voter registration and making election day a holiday—as well as changes to election integrity and security, campaign finance transparency and more.

Other Twitter users also called on McConnell to honor Lewis by passing the act, including The View co-host Sunny Hostin and author John Nichols.

How about honoring John Lewis’ life and sacrifices by restoring the Voting Rights Act that has been sitting on your desk intentionally with no action for 225 days instead of posting statements. Actions speak louder than words @senatemajldr

— Sunny Hostin (@sunny) July 18, 2020

If Mitch McConnell is serious about honoring John Lewis, he can begin by leading the Senate in enacting the Restore the Voting Rights Act and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) July 18, 2020

MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid also questioned McConnell on whether he would pass the bill. "You sir, are perhaps the biggest impediment to restoring the Voting Rights Act, which John Lewis put his blood on that bridge for, and you have refused to allow HR1 onto the Senate floor, though it would make it easier for the next John Lewis to vote. Will you change that stance?" she wrote on Twitter.

Press contacts for McConnell did not respond to Newsweek's emailed requests for comment in time for publication.

John Lewis
U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) (C) speaks while flanked by (first row) Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L), House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) (2nd-L), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) (Center-R), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (2nd-R) and other members of Congress during a media conference on Capitol Hill May 2, 2006 in Washington, DC. The bipartisan House and Senate officials met to voice support for legislation to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years. Getty/Mark Wilson