It also was clarifying. The big “win” of bipartisanship on infrastructure was quickly set aside as Republicans got right back into the groove of demonizing Democrats. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted Schumer’s effort, saying: “Here in the dead of night, they also want to start tearing up the ground rules of our democracy and writing new ones of course on a purely partisan basis.” If McConnell couldn’t resort to pure hypocritical trolling, he’d have nothing at all.
Because, of course, it is Republican state legislatures across the land who’ve been tearing up the rules of democracy—starting with one person, one vote. That’s 18 states enacting at least 30 laws to restrict the vote in 2021 alone. All told, more than 400 voter suppression bills have been introduced in 49 of our 50 states.
It’s going to get even worse, and very soon. Starting Thursday, in fact, when census data is released to the states for congressional redistricting. As Stephen Wolf details, Republicans will have “a considerable upper hand over redistricting that will let them draw four or five out of every 10 congressional districts nationally. Democrats, meanwhile, will only be able to draw fewer than two out of 10.” That means gerrymandering Democrats out of a House majority in 2022 and at least until the next census and next shot at redistricting. That is, unless legislation like the For the People Act is passed to eliminate partisan gerrymanders.
“This is a debate the Senate must have,” Schumer also said on the floor. “In America today, we are witnessing the most sweeping and coordinated attacks on voting rights since the era of Jim Crow.” He said the legislation would be the first thing the Senate tackles when it returns on Sept. 13. To which McConnell answered: “It isn’t going to work tonight, and it isn’t going to work when we get back.”
The difficulty of a September deadline is that there are other pressing things happening then, things that will require Democrats to be united in facing down Republicans. It’s going to be a concentrated few weeks of playing chicken with government funding, the debt ceiling, the budget reconciliation for Build Back Better, and now voting rights all crammed into very few days. It’s that much more fraught with every piece being urgent and essential. The negotiating is going to be a high-wire act already, and having to drag around the dead obstructionist weight of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will make it that much harder for Schumer.
It’s possible that he wanted those two to leave town Wednesday with this as the punctuation mark of their work; Republicans blocking the bill that is pretty much essential to either of them ever being elected again (if Sinema thinks Republicans are going to embrace her as one of their own, she’s really has drunk too much of her own sangria). Manchin, after all, has been putting actual work into a compromise voting rights bill with other Democrats. Perhaps Schumer wanted to emphasize to him that all his talk about “10 good people” on the Republican side for voting rights is ludicrous.
The House, by the way, is probably going to be turning up the pressure on this in a few weeks. On Tuesday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer informed members that they’ll be breaking their August recess on Aug. 23, “and will remain in session until our business for the week is concluded.” That work will include the budget resolution the Senate passed this week, as well as H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. “This critical bill honors the legacy of John Lewis and the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement by restoring the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were removed in the disastrous rulings in Shelby v. Holder in 2013 and in the recent Brnovich case,” Hoyer said.
That means there will be another critical voting rights bill sitting on Schumer’s desk when he gets back to D.C. in a month. And Republicans certainly aren’t going to honor the memory of John Lewis by helping to pass that bill.