Raphael Warnock's Rousing Speech on Voting Rights Viewed Over 300,000 Times

Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) called on Democrats to change the chamber's rules and push forward with voting rights legislation in a floor speech on Tuesday.

In a passionate address, Warnock said "the judgement of history" was upon the Senate as he urged a rule change similar to the one recently implemented in order to raise the federal debt ceiling.

A video showing part of Warnock's speech had been watched more than 340,000 times on Twitter by Wednesday morning and is continuing to rack up views.

The senator, who was elected in a special election in January, began by saying he had had "a long week of wrestling with my conscience" before discussing the debt ceiling deal.

"Before we left Washington last week, we in this chamber made a change in the Senate's rules in order to push forward something that all of us think is important.

"We set the stage to raise the nation's debt ceiling, and yet as we cast that vote to begin addressing the debt ceiling, this same chamber is allowing the ceiling of our democracy to crash in around us."

Warnock said his constituents in Georgia were "deeply worried" about voting rights and what he described as "sweeping voter suppression proposals in 49 states."

The senator discussed Democratic efforts to protect voting rights through legislation, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, but pointed out: "With just one lone exception, all of our friends across the aisle have refused to engage with us in any way to address the growing barriers to what is basic to American democracy—the ballot box."

The "lone exception" mentioned is Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Warnock said Republicans generally did not want to debate voting rights and "lack of engagement" combined with Senate rules had "prevented us from moving that conversation forward."

He said the Senate could not imagine changing its rules until last week when an agreement was reached to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, overcoming the filibuster. That deal was struck between Democrats and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Generally, 60 votes are required in the Senate to overcome the filibuster and allow legislation to progress. Warnock appeared to argue that the filibuster should be suspended to allow voting rights bills to pass.

"Be very clear: last week we changed the rules of the Senate to address another important issue, the economy," Warnock said. "This is a step, a change in the Senate rules we haven't been willing to take to save our broken democracy, but one that a bipartisan majority of this chamber thought was necessary in order to keep our economy strong."

He added: "We changed the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States government. We've decided we must do it for the economy, but not for the democracy."

Speaking before senators voted to raise the debt ceiling, Warnock said he had had a "difficult week" thinking about how he would vote.

"I feel like I'm being asked to take a road that is a point of moral dissonance for me," he said. "Because while I deeply believe that both our democracy and our economy are important, I believe that it is misplaced to change the Senate rules only for the benefit of the economy when the warning lights on our democracy are flashing at the same time. I happen to believe that our democracy is at least as important as the economy."

Warnock also referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the three-fifths compromise reached at the Constitutional Convention and the Capitol riot during his address.

"I have to tell you that the most important thing that we can do this Congress is to get voting rights done," he said. "Voting rights are a preservative of all other rights. They lay the ground for all of the other debates. And so to my Democratic colleagues, I say: while it is deeply unfortunate, it is more than apparent that it has been left to us to handle alone the task of safeguarding our democracy.

"Sadly, many of our Republican friends have already cast their vote with voter suppression. And so the judgment of history is upon us. Future generations will ask, when the democracy was in a 911 state of emergency, what did you do to put the fire out? Did we rise to the moment or did we hide behind procedural rules?

"I believe that we Democrats can figure out how to get this done, even if that requires a change in the rules, which we established just last week that we can do when the issue is important enough."

Video of that section of Warnock's speech, posted to Twitter by journalist Aaron Rupar, had been viewed more than 340,000 times at the time of writing.

Warnock concluded by saying that people in his state and across the country believed voting rights were important enough to justify a rule change.

Raphael Warnock Speaks at a News Conference
Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill on April 20. Warnock has said GOP senators don't want to debate voting rights. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images