KLOBUCHAR: “It is on us, with the support of the Constitution, to take action.”
WASHINGTON – Today on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight of federal elections and campaign finance laws, delivered remarks on the urgent need to pass federal legislation to protect Americans’ voting rights.
“It is on us, with the support of the Constitution, to take action,” Klobuchar said as she urged her colleagues to support changing the Senate rules to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. “There's no mention of a filibuster in the Constitution. There's no mention of 60 votes. There's no mention of cloture. Rules developed over time.”
Klobuchar highlighted that more than 400 bills have been introduced since the 2020 elections to restrict voting, and 30 of these bills have been signed into law in 19 states. “There are moments in the life of our nation when things stand still. And make no mistake, our country is at one of those moments right now,” she said, ultimately concluding that “The people of this country will not tolerate silencing.”
I'm here on this momentous day for our country. I would like to address some of the remarks from my friend and neighbor from the state of South Dakota. I hope he'll stay for my remarks.
What is the Senate about? That's what Senator Thune was just addressing. What is the Senate about? We come here to represent the people of our states, and we come here to make decisions and to vote. I don't think anyone in our states wants us to come here and hug an archaic tradition and then simply stop votes, stop debates, hug that tradition tight, and then throw the voters under the desk and go home and raise money.
Because basically, that's what this “tradition” has turned into. I believe what our Founding Fathers wanted – when it became clear that this country was forming – they wanted to have a Senate that worked. And when you go back and look, there's no mention of a filibuster in the Constitution. There's no mention of 60 votes. There's no mention of cloture. Rules developed over time, and believe it or not, to my friend from South Dakota, those rules change with the times. In the words of Senator Byrd, someone who believed in the traditions of this place, “The rules change with the circumstances.” And in the words of our Constitution, which the Senator from South Dakota failed to mention, the time, place, and manner of elections, well, this is what it says: “Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations.” That's what it says. It was very, very clear that at the beginning of this country it was anticipated that Congress would have a role in these elections. Why? Because they are federal elections.
And now before us, before us is the freedom to vote. Something that has been a long and hard-fought battle in our country's history. And today we continue that march towards justice in the Senate because we face a coordinated and relentless campaign to limit Americans' constitutional right to vote. As President Biden has said – I was honored to be there with him and Vice President Harris in Atlanta – “This is the test of our time.” There are moments in the life of our nation – like when a bomb blew up the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, four little girls murdered; like when John Lewis and so many others were bloodied as they crossed that bridge in Selma – there are moments in time when things stand still. And make no mistake, our country is at one of those moments right now.
It is no coincidence that after more Americans voted than in the history of this country in the 2020 election that suddenly there was a slew – a flood – of state election laws meant to suppress the votes of Americans. It is not, as the Majority Leader just described and the Minority Leader just described, a fake panic. A fake panic. Let's see what is fake about this.
What is fake about these laws that passed in Georgia, where suddenly when 70,000 people registered to vote during the runoff period – I would say to the Minority Leader if he was here – when 70,000 people registered to vote during the runoff period, they changed that law. They reduced the time of the runoff period. They make it so that no one can register during that time. Montana – 8,000 people availed themselves of same-day registration in the last election by either changing their address because they moved or registering for the first time. What do they do? That's it, that's not going to happen, even though it's been in place for 15 years, long before the pandemic. That's not fake. There's nothing about that that is fake.
And when I think about the moment in time we're in now, I look back to that moment when Senator Blunt and I and Vice President Pence, the last ones remaining in this chamber, with two young women holding the mahogany box with the last of the electoral ballots through “W”, Wyoming, 3:30 in the morning took that long walk to the House of Representatives, that walk that has been so joyful just that morning. That glass broken on the sides of that walk? That was not fake. The statues covered in spray paint? That was not fake. That was real.
Just as real as the fact that over 440 bills since that fateful day have been introduced to restrict voting. 30 of these bills have been signed into law in 19 states. What is happening in states like Florida, Georgia, and Texas with their omnibus bills, that is very real.
The voters, they know it's real. Last summer when we took the Rules Committee on a field hearing joined by Senator Ossoff, who is a member of the Committee, and Senator Reverend Warnock, who has taken on this torch in his state and across the country, we met a veteran living in central Georgia. He told us how he took his older neighbors to vote early, but they had to give up and go home after seeing the line wrapped around the block. And when he later went back to vote, he had to wait three hours in the hot sun. That's not fake, I say to the Minority Leader. That is real.
This guy, a veteran, he served in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm. And when I asked him if he had to wait in line when he signed up to serve, he said no. But when he came home and he wanted to vote in an election in the United States of America, he had to wait in the hot sun hour after hour after hour.
When the Minority Leader said that no American deserved to have their voice silenced, as he just said in this chamber, those long lines, one ballot drop box in the middle of Harris County, Texas, with over five million people – that would be like putting one ballot drop box in the middle of my entire state – what are those laws about? Silencing people. That's what it's about.
When we were in Atlanta, we also heard from Helen Butler, a former election official for Royal County, who told us how she was ousted by Republicans in the state legislature after a decade of service, which the new law makes even easier to do by stripping power away from local officials and ultimately putting it in the hands of the state legislature. They are messing around, my friends, with the very counting of the votes, with proposals made in Wisconsin, with proposals made in other states. One Montana woman living on the Blackfeet Reservation had open-heart surgery a week before the 2020 election and relied on a tribal assistance provider to return her ballot. But under another new law, the assistance she received is now banned.
These are real, and these are real people. It is voters being made to stand in the rain in homemade masks and garbage bags at the beginning of the pandemic just to exercise their right to vote. It is veterans standing in hot lines in the sun in Georgia. It's a voter in a wheelchair in Texas being forced to travel three hours and take four buses round-trip to reach a ballot dropbox. It is a voter in Arizona being told that she didn't receive her mail-in ballot for the state's primary because she had been marked as an inactive voter, even though she had just cast her ballot in the presidential primary. And it's five states – Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas – still telling over 30 million, 30 million Americans – registered voters – that they cannot request a mail-in ballot during a pandemic without an approved excuse.
That is why it is on us, with the support of the Constitution, to take action. And as I noted at the beginning of my remarks, it was in fact anticipated in the Constitution with that clause that empowers Congress to make or alter rules for federal elections.
What does the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act do? It sets basic federal standards to ensure that Americans can participate in the franchise. It guarantees at least two weeks of early voting, like voters now have in two-thirds of states, including red states. It provides for same-day registration, like they had for 15 years in Montana. It allows all voters to request a mail-in ballot without an excuse. And it ensures voters do not need to provide witness signatures or notarizations of notary publics that they would have to hire, on mail-in ballots. Because if you’re in South Carolina right now and you want to cast a mail-in ballot and you have COVID or you're in the hospital, you have to have a witness sign off on that ballot.
It also makes sure voters have access to dropboxes. The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act would include much needed protections against those seeking to undermine our elections. Senator Blunt and I held a bipartisan hearing this last year, and we found out that nearly one in three local election officials feel unsafe because of their job and nearly one in six have received threats of violence.
The Republican Kentucky Secretary of State said that if something doesn't happen, they are not going to have enough people to work at elections. Now, he didn't agree with what we were going to do, but he did note that they no longer have enough volunteers to work their polls. Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner who did want to see legislation passed, Al Schmidt, told us about the threats – he is no longer in his job – he received, as a result of his work, simply counting the ballots. He told us – I see the Senator from Pennsylvania here – that his family's names, his kids' names have been put out on the internet. His address, a picture of his house, a message saying tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbes told us she received a message, “I am a hunter and I think you should be hunted.”
These are not just one-point examples. Over 9,000 Members of Congress have received threats, double, triple – this is according to the Capitol Police – in numbers that we have never seen before. So, no, I say to the Minority Leader, this is not fake. This is not one bit fake. It calls for federal action. And, yes, I am disappointed that four times our colleagues have voted down allowing us to go forward with the Freedom to Vote Act or the John Lewis bill that are now combined into one, with the exception of Senator Murkowski, who did allow for the debate to continue on one of the bills, the John Lewis bill. No one else stood up and joined us in allowing for a debate on these bills. No one.
So that is why we are here. And I say to Senator Thune, the reason we are looking to restore the rules of the Senate is because there is no other way to move forward to guarantee Americans the right to vote. In the past, this was bipartisan. 2006, Voting Rights Act reauthorized under President George W. Bush by a vote of 98-0. 98-0. But that is sadly not where we are today.
When it comes to the rules of the Senate, I am not going to belabor this. I see my friend, Senator Merkley of Oregon, who is an historical expert on all of this. But I will say this: there are 160 exceptions – 160 exceptions – to the filibuster rule. Things have been changed to benefit my colleagues from the other side of the aisle. Somehow it only takes 51 votes to put in place the Trump tax cuts or the Bush tax cuts. Somehow it only took 51 votes to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court of the United States, a change made by them. Somehow it only takes 51 votes to try to overturn a regulation or try to mess around with the Affordable Care Act. But then when it comes to someone’s voting rights, suddenly everyone on the other side of the aisle is hugging that filibuster tight, knowing that so many times in history, including most recently with the debt ceiling, changes have been made to allow a vote with less than 60 votes. The National Gas Policy Act in 1977. In 1995 the Endangered Species Act. In 1996, a change to the reconciliation process.
And as Representative Clyburn has pointed out so well, there have been times in our history when that most sacrosanct of rights has been extended or defended, the right to vote on a bipartisan basis, like the 15th Amendment. But we note that, as he said, that was a single-party vote that gave Black people the right to vote, and that fact does not make the 15th Amendment any less legitimate. During the past week so many in this chamber celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr. But let us not forget what he stood for. He did not stand for the filibuster. He did not like it. As Senator Reverend Warnock has pointed out so many times, he stood for action and fairness and freedom.
Last week, I met with Martin Luther King III and his wife and daughter who came to Washington to help us pass this legislation. He told us that his daughter was born in 2008, the year that President Obama was elected. They told me how the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision was issued five years later, followed by Georgia's anti-voter law enacted just last year. How sad is it that if we do not act, their daughter, the granddaughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and her classmates, will face more obstacles to voting and casting a ballot than the promise they were born with?
This cannot be the democracy that our children inherit. Dr. King once said, and I will paraphrase, that disappointment is finite. I don't know how today is going to end, but if it ends without this bill passing, we will be much less of a country moving forward. But I will keep this in mind, what he said. “Disappointment is finite, but hope is infinite.” The people of this country will not tolerate silencing – as the Minority Leader has said – silencing their voices, truly. I think by voting this down, by not allowing us to even debate this, to get to the conclusion of a vote, that is silencing the people of America, all in the name of an archaic Senate rule that isn't even in the Constitution. That's just wrong. I yield the floor.
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