Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced the sweeping election and voting rights package passed by the House earlier this month, one that, if passed, would counteract Republican efforts at the state level to curb access to the ballot box.
The For the People Act, or S1, aims to expand voting access nationwide. Democrats have said the legislation would improve accountability and transparency in Washington, while Republicans have argued the legislation limits political speech and represents a federal power grab that Democrats are advancing in an effort to gain an advantage in elections.
Though it passed in the House, the legislation is likely to hit a roadblock in the Senate, where it’s not clear there would be enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said that he will bring the Senate version of the For the People Act to the floor after hearings on March 24. The New York Democrat also blasted GOP efforts to restrict access to voting by state-level lawmakers, saying they were akin to Jim Crow laws.
“It is not democracy when you disenfranchise people by passing Jim Crow laws. That’s not democracy – that’s dictatorship, and that’s where our Republican friends seem to be going,” he said.
The package’s consideration in Congress comes as GOP-led state legislatures across the country have introduced efforts to curtail voting rights. As of February, state legislators in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
“When you lose an election, what you do in a democracy is try to win over the people who didn’t vote for you, not prevent them from voting. That is autocratic, that is anti-democratic. That is anti-American, and it’s nothing short again if despicable, nasty – and in many cases racist,” Schumer said.
But the legislation, under current Senate rules, is unlikely to advance. Per the rules, 60 votes are needed cut off debate or end the “filibuster” of legislation – giving the Republicans now in the minority a powerful tool to block the voting-rights measures and other Democratic priorities. The chamber has a 50-50 partisan split with Vice President Kamala Harris in a position to break ties.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he would support bringing back the talking filibuster, which would require a senator who wants to block legislation to hold the floor without taking a break. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a stark warning that Republicans would grind the chamber to a halt if filibuster rules changed, leading to a “completely scorched earth Senate.”
Schumer challenged Republicans to join Democrats in supporting the legislation, warning that “failure is not an option.”
“We will see if our Republican friends join us,” he said. “If they don’t join us, our caucus will come together and decide the appropriate action to take everything is on the table. Failure is not an option.”
When pressed on whether filibuster reform might be necessary for passing the bill, Schumer punctuated that “everything is on the table.”
The voting rights package is largely the same as the version that passed during the last Congress. It would bar states from restricting the ability to vote by mail and, among other provisions, call for states to use independent redistricting commissions to create congressional district boundaries. The new bill also includes measures to protect against foreign interference in elections.
Progressive groups are hoping that the launch of a new $30 million campaign will help persuade senators to pass the legislation.
The plan from End Citizens United/Let America Vote and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is to spend $20 million on a television and digital advertising campaign and $10 million on a grassroots effort to try to get the legislation passed.
The ad campaign is expected to roll out initially in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maine and Pennsylvania, and will eventually expand to 12 to 15 states. The grassroots effort is expected to include calls and emails to senators, outreach to local activists and funding for national and state-based partners to enlist their members in the push.
Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications for End Citizens United/Let America Vote told CNN earlier this week that the groups’ efforts will target Democrats as well as Republicans, but he reiterated that their end goal is to ensure the bill is passed whether or not it garners bipartisan support.
“We’re going to make a run at Republicans,” Bozzi said, but “whether it’s with 60 votes or some procedural change, we need to put this bill in a position to be passed.”
CNN’s Sara Murray, Fredreka Schouten, Annie Grayer and Clare Foran contributed to this report.