WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans blocked U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's voting rights bill on Wednesday, displaying the stark partisan divide on elections legislation that Democrats remain unable to overcome.
The push from Klobuchar and other Democrats to set federal standards on voting and elections is playing out as some Republican-led states work to tighten voting laws in light of former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Speaking on the Senate floor, Klobuchar said the freedom to vote is under attack and she called for urgent action.
"With 19 states having enacted laws this year to roll back the freedom to vote, we can't simply sit back and watch our democracy be threatened," Klobuchar said. She then referenced the violent Jan. 6 insurrection. "Whether it be threatened with bear spray, crowbars, axes, or whether it be threatened with long lines, no ballot drop-off boxes and secret money, we must stand up for our democracy, whether we're Democrats or Republicans or independents."
The Democrats' legislation includes detailing automatic voter registration for those eligible, the guarantee of an early voting period for federal elections, setting a public Election Day holiday and ensuring access to voting by mail. The bill, a compromise attempt from Senate Democrats, also spells out rules for states that require voter identification.
All Senate Republicans voted against advancing the bill.
"Our Republican colleagues may not agree with everything in this bill," Klobuchar said in her floor speech before the vote. "OK, then don't be scared. Don't hide behind your desk. Don't deny us the right to simply debate this bill."
Republicans in the Senate have sharply opposed the repeated voting legislation attempts from Democrats. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said during a news conference Tuesday that "what our Democratic friends have been wanting to do forever is to have the federal government take over how elections are conducted all over America."
"There's no basis for that, no basis for it whatsoever," McConnell told reporters. "So this latest iteration is just another example of how they would like to have the federal government take over all of state elections."
Senate Democrats' latest stalled attempt at passing voting rights legislation comes after the party failed in June to overcome GOP opposition on a more wide-ranging bill criticized by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a critical swing vote. Following his complaints about the earlier effort, Manchin was a cosponsor of the legislation that struggled Wednesday.
Ahead of the vote, Democratic President Joe Biden said in a statement the "Senate needs to act to protect the sacred constitutional right to vote, which is under unrelenting assault by proponents of the Big Lie and Republican Governors, Secretaries of State, Attorneys-General, and state legislatures across the nation."
Democrats are now likely to face renewed pressure to change the Senate's legislative filibuster. The 60-vote threshold allowed Republicans to block Klobuchar's legislation Wednesday. As the impasse became clear in Washington, fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said in an interview that "failure is not an option. We can't simply say that Senate rules don't allow us to do our jobs."
Klobuchar and Smith support getting rid of the filibuster, though Democrats lack the votes to do so and they hold the narrowest of majorities in the chamber. The latest Senate blockade, Smith said, "shows that every single member of the Republican Party in the Senate is willing to block the United States Senate from protecting the fundamental right of people to vote."
During a time of intense partisanship, Klobuchar has pushed to pass elections legislation, even holding a rare July field hearing in Georgia focused on a law defended by Georgia Republicans. On Capitol Hill, Republicans didn't budge on Democrats' latest attempt.
"It's a complete takeover, totally unnecessary and it will fail again," GOP U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said before Wednesday's vote.
Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559