Republican Leaders Refuse To Support Democrats Move To Address Voter Suppression

by KIRA LERNER –

Midterm Elections Texas Voting Rights

Exactly one year before the 2016 presidential election, House Democrats held a press conference to call for the passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which so far has no House Republican support. At the same time on Tuesday, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) held his first press conference since his election to GOP leadership in which he called for more bipartisanship in “the people’s House.”

Standing alongside Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) expressed a similar sentiment. “We’re not afraid of having an idea, but more importantly we strive for finding a solution to a major problem,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), whose district includes Selma, Alabama, spoke in the Democrats’ press conference about the legislation she introduced this year to restore federal oversight in states and counties with a history of discrimination and voter suppression. That provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the assistant Democratic leader called the bill a “bipartisan piece of legislation.” Both Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pointed out the hypocrisy that President George W. Bush signed the extension of the VRA in 2006 with wide support from Republicans — the 2006 reauthorization passed 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House — but many of those same Republicans refuse to hold a hearing on the legislation or to bring it to the floor for a vote this year.

“We have seen since [the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013] a proliferation of activity in states across the country erecting impediments to voting,” Cyburn said at the press conference. “So we have advanced what we call the Voting Rights Advancement Act to answer the Supreme Court’s call to restore the vote.”

In their press conference, Democrats announced the launch of “Restoration Tuesdays,” a push to pass the legislation which will involve speaking to members of Congress about its importance every Tuesday.

“I have not spoken to Speaker Ryan about this but I can tell you that Restoration Tuesday is about informing Americans about this issue,” Butterfield said. “If public opinion were to rise, I would believe that politicians, including the Speaker of the House, would be forced to move this to a vote.”

But Republican leadership still refuses to take steps to restore the VRA before the 2016 election, which will be the first presidential election since the 1960s without the protections enshrined in the civil rights legislation.

Last month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) became the first Republican to support the legislation in the Senate to restore the VRA. “It is fundamentally important in our system of government that every American be given the opportunity to vote, regardless of who they are, where they live, and what their race or national origin may be,” she told the Nation at the time.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress