With the Senate set to vote this week on a sweeping bill that would revamp U.S. election laws and expand ballot access, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday condemned state-level GOP attacks on the franchise and said Congress must combat such voter suppression efforts “in any and every way” possible.
“What Republican legislatures and governors are doing in the most disgraceful way imaginable is to try to deny people of color, young people, poor people the right to vote, people with disabilities,” the Vermont senator said in an appearance on CNN. “That is outrageous.”
“We can disagree on all kinds of issues,” Sanders added, “but taking away the right of people to participate in American democracy is unacceptable and the Congress must address that.”
Sanders’ remarks came as the For the People Act (S. 1) is destined to run up against the 60-vote legislative filibuster, an archaic procedural rule that Senate Republicans have freely wielded to block Democratic priorities from their minority position in the upper chamber.
In their effort to tank the For the People Act—which would effectively neutralize the hundreds of voter suppression measures that GOP lawmakers are pushing across the nation—Republicans have received an assist from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has refused to co-sponsor the popular bill and repeatedly shot down calls to eliminate the filibuster.
Last week, in a bid to attract Republican support, Manchin released a three-page memo (pdf) outlining provisions of the For the People Act that he supports—including at least 15 consecutive days of early voting and more strict donor disclosure rules—and offering proposed changes to the bill, which the House passed in March without any GOP backing.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasted little time making clear that he and every other Republican in his caucus opposes the original For the People Act and Manchin’s compromise, calling the two proposals “equally unacceptable.”
Asked during his CNN appearance whether he would be open to supporting Manchin’s offer, Sanders said he prefers the House version, which—among other changes—would establish national automatic voter registration, create minimum federal standards for absentee voting, set up a matching system for small donations, and prohibit states from purging voter rolls.
“I think that is a serious, comprehensive effort to protect American democracy,” said Sanders. “We will see what evolves here in the Senate.”
Pressed again on the compromise proposal, Sanders added, “I’m open to doing everything I possibly can to protect American democracy.”
The For the People Act’s likely failure in the Senate on Tuesday is sure to spark another round of calls to eliminate the legislative filibuster, a move that would allow bills to pass with a simple-majority vote. Anticipating the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, progressive advocacy groups are already planning August demonstrations aimed at building Democratic support for scrapping the filibuster.
While it takes just 51 votes to eliminate or weaken the filibuster, a number of Senate Democrats in addition to Manchin have thus far declined to endorse changes to the 60-vote rule.
“Long-serving institutionalists, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have not said whether they’d support abolishing the filibuster,” NBC News reported Monday morning. “Progressives hope if they can convince Manchin and [Arizona Sen. Kyrsten] Sinema, the other skeptics won’t be a problem.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, stressed on Sunday that “our democracy is in crisis,” pointing to the fact that “nearly 400 bills have been introduced to restrict voting rights in 48 states.”
Since the beginning of the year, according to the latest tally from the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 14 Republican-led states have enacted 22 new laws that limit ballot access.
“Is the filibuster more important than ending voter suppression in America? No,” Jayapal said. “It’s time to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People Act.”