“In the words of Bob Dole, ‘No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens.’”
WASHINGTON – Today on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law, delivered a floor speech urging her colleagues to advance the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation to set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in.
“The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms. That is why this bill is called the Freedom to Vote Act. It ensures that people are part of the franchise, and that government is accountable to the people. But this fundamental right that is the very foundation of our system of government is under attack. Since the 2020 election, we have seen a persistent and coordinated assault on the freedom to vote in states across the country,” said Klobuchar. “...We must stand up for the salvation of our democracy and each day that we delay, it gets harder and harder to undo what is being done. We owe it to our country and to the future generation of Americans to take care of this country. We are the stewards, my friends, of this nation right now, and our democracy.”
“It was during Senator Bob Dole's funeral service in Washington that President Biden reminded us what Senator Dole had once said. You see, Senator Dole stood against the tide. He supported civil rights legislation when that was a really hard thing to do. He supported the Martin Luther King holiday. And the words he said at that time ring true today. He said this: No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens. No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens. His warning is exactly what's going on today. Efforts to treat some Americans as second-class citizens by making them stand hours and hours and hours in line to vote. By telling them, ‘Oh, by the way, you're not going to be able to, like you did before, get water and food. Certain people that might give it to you while you're standing in line.’ That’s a story we heard in Georgia. By telling them, like a bill that passed in Wisconsin, it would have been put into law, except for the governor there, that said we’re only going to have one drop-off box in the entire city of Milwaukee,” Klobuchar continued.
Sen. Klobuchar: Madam President, I come to the floor to speak in support of legislation that is critical to our democracy – the Freedom to Vote Act. And this is a bill that was a product of work by many, many senators from across the country with different views, but all committed to one thing: our democracy. And I want to thank Senator Schumer for bringing the group together, as well as the other senators, Senator Manchin, whose name is on this bill, whose experience as Secretary of State really was so helpful to us in forming this bill and also realizing the differences between so many jurisdictions, including rural jurisdictions that have different staffing levels and different needs. Senator Merkley, an expert on election law. Senator Padilla, also a former Secretary of State. Senator King, bringing his independent spirit from the state of Maine. Senator Kaine, former civil rights lawyer. Senator Tester, who sees this and understands all of this firsthand in the state of Montana where – by the way – for decades they've had same-day registration, which when you look at the states, whether they're red or blue, states that have same-day registration, like my state, tend to have some of the highest voter turnouts in the country. And sadly, they've disposed of that in the state of Montana recently. And Senator Warnock from the great state of Georgia, who was a host, along with Senator Ossoff, of a Rules Committee field hearing that we recently held in Georgia, where we saw firsthand why so many leaders in the business community across the country and in Georgia have voiced their concern about a bill that recently passed there that would literally say that you cannot vote on weekends during the runoff period, during the critical period of vote in Georgia. That was a group that came together – different views, different levels of experience, but all committed to one idea, that democracy will prevail.
The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms. That is why this bill is called the Freedom to Vote Act. It ensures that people are part of the franchise, and that government is accountable to the people. But this fundamental right that is the very foundation of our system of government is under attack. Since the 2020 election, we have seen a persistent and coordinated assault on the freedom to vote in states across the country.
These attacks on our democracy demand a federal response. The Constitution anticipated that perhaps we would need a federal response when, in the words of the Constitution, as written by our founding fathers, that Congress can make or alter the rules regarding federal elections. The need for action could not be more serious.
It has been almost a year since the violent mob of insurrectionists stormed into this chamber and desecrated our Capitol. Came into this very room, rifled through the desks, up there right on the dais where you now preside, Madam President. They came here, but what they did was not just an attack on a building. It was an attack on our republic. An attack on our republic.
I still can just picture it like it just happened, where Senator Blunt and I were the last two remaining senators in this chamber at 3:30 in the morning along with the incredible staff from the Parliamentarian's office, with the pages, along with Vice President Pence, and the two young women with that mahogany box filled with the remaining electoral ballots, and we made our way over to the House of Representatives, where glass was smashed against the side, where there’s still spray paints on statues and on columns, and we finished our job. And two weeks later as we stood on that inaugural stage, Democrats, Republican leaders of both parties from this chamber, all the senators from this chamber, leaders nationally, Republicans, Democrats, stood on that stage under that beautiful blue sky with little flakes of snow. It was like everything was in technicolor. As I said that day, this is the moment where democracy brushes itself off, stands straight, and moves forward, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Maybe I was naive. I thought this was the moment in the middle of this raging pandemic that we were going to move forward as a country, and we did. But lurking, lurking in the background was claims – false, incredibly dangerous claims that somehow the election was invalid. And along with that, a coordinated effort across the country to introduce bills, over 425 of them now, to make it harder, not easier, for people to vote. And what has been the result of this democracy on fire? What happened here in the Capitol? That canister of bear spray has been replaced by bill after bill after bill. Those flagpoles that were used to poke and jab at our brave officers that are here to defend us, resulting in several of their deaths, that's been replaced by repeated efforts to lie about the results of the election. What has happened to our democracy?
Members in this chamber know well. This year alone, Capitol Police have responded to nearly 9,000 threats against members of Congress since the beginning of the year. 9,000 threats. That's nearly double the threats faced by members just three years ago.
Election officials across the country have also been targeted by an overwhelming increase in the number of threats. Senator Blunt and I held a Rules Committee hearing on this deeply disturbing trend this fall.
Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt shared some of the horrifying threats that he and his family have received after he stood up to lies about election fraud, including a message that said tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot, with the names of his 7-year-old son and his 11- and 14-year-old daughters, their address, photos of their house out on the Internet.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs received a voicemail saying “I am a hunter – and I think you should be hunted.”
This isn’t just a few examples. This is happening across our country. This is why we have united on this side of the aisle behind the Freedom to Vote Act. It takes these threats against these election officials head on by establishing a right to vote and have every vote counted. Protects election officials from improper removal by partisan actors – you have to –
malfeasance has to occur to be removed. Protects against sham audits like the one we saw in Arizona and the ones being advanced in Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, and Pennsylvania. And strengthens the protections for election workers by making it a federal crime to intimidate, threaten, or coerce election workers.
It was during Senator Bob Dole's funeral service in Washington that President Biden reminded us what Senator Dole had once said. You see, Senator Dole stood against the tide. He supported civil rights legislation when that was a really hard thing to do. He supported the Martin Luther King holiday. And the words he said at that time ring true today. He said this: No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens. No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens. His warning is exactly what's going on today. Efforts to treat some Americans as second-class citizens by making them stand hours and hours and hours in line to vote in lines. By telling them, “Oh, by the way, you're not going to be able to, like you did before, get water and food. Certain people that might give it to you while you're standing in line.” That’s a story we heard in Georgia. By telling them, like a bill that passed in Wisconsin, it would have been put into law, except for the governor there, that said we’re only going to have one drop-off box in the entire city of Milwaukee.
Or what we saw in the last election in Texas, in Harris County, a county that has about as much people as my entire state. We're only going to have one dropoff box there in that county. Taking away options for registering to vote, making it harder for people with disabilities, or elderly voters, to receive the assistance they need to make their voices heard. Telling people, oh, hey, if you've got COVID and you’re in the hospital and you want to apply for a mail-in ballot because you obviously aren’t going to be able to go in and vote, you need to get a notary public to sign the application, something South Carolina had taken that requirement away and then they put it back in. Over 400 bills introduced in nearly every state to limit the freedom to vote. Over 30 already signed into law. That is why we must now establish national standards for voting, completely allowed for in the Constitution, to make sure all voters can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them regardless of what zip code they live in. The need for federal action is urgent.
Redistricting is underway to draw congressional maps that will define our democracy for the next decade. And you know how many of these maps do not come close to reflecting in a nonpartisan basis what goes on in the state. We know what's been happening in Wisconsin. Actual, actual ideas and actual proposals supported by someone in this very chamber to take away the right of the bipartisan election board to count the ballots, and instead have them counted by the legislature. 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.
As Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock has said, what is this all about? Some people don't want some people to vote. Whether our democracy is threatened with bear spray, crowbars and axes, or long lines, no-ballot dropoff boxes, and secret money, it is still under siege and we must stand up and do what's right. We want trust in our government, trust regardless of where people are politically.
You know, my state has one of the highest voter turnouts in the country, if not the highest every single time, and we have elected Republican governors with those standards in Tim Pawlenty. We have elected Democratic governors in Tim Walz, and we have elected independent governors, Jesse Ventura.
But what's the difference? People are part of the franchise. They come up and they say, look, I didn't vote for you, but I agreed with you on that, I didn’t like what you did on that. They're part of the franchise. As we've seen in states like Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Montana, and Texas, we are up against this coordinated attack. Our democracy cannot wait. The infamous new law in Georgia that says you can't vote on weekends, as I mentioned, in the runoff, or register to vote during the runoff, and there are limitations for voting by mail and that new requirement, the one that used to be in – was taken out for the pandemic because it was so confusing, then put back in with this law that you have to put a date on the outside of your inside envelope. What date would you think that would be? Anyone casting the ballot would think, well, it’s the date that I'm voting. No, no, it's your birthday that they ask you to put on the outside of that envelope when you put that ballot in.
In Iowa, new law cut the days of early voting by nine days and will close the polls an hour early. This was after the state, in the words of its own Republican Secretary of State, that had shattered its voter turnout record last year. Why do that? Except you're trying to make it hard for certain people to vote. In the words of a court about a North Carolina law years ago, it’s discrimination with surgical precision.
A new law in Montana that I noticed says you can no longer register to vote on election day, after that having been an option in the state for 15 years.
In Texas, another new law eliminates drop boxes and puts new restrictions on vote by mail while also empowering partisan poll watchers.
That's why we need the Freedom to Vote Act, which builds on the framework put forward by our colleague and former West Virginia Secretary of State Joe Manchin in June. Includes key reforms like ensuring voters have access to at least two weeks of early voting and same day registration and that voters can cast a mail-in ballot without an excuse. Increasing transparency through the Disclose Act. I don't care if you're a Democrat, Republican, Independent, what party you are in, you don't want to have money coming in elections, dark money that you can't even figure out where it's from, telling you stuff if you can't even figure out if it's true. This part of the bill would simply require super PACs and issue advocacy groups to disclose donors who contribute more than $10,000, so at least we know who is putting in all that money to run ads so you understand why they're doing it.
It would prohibit partisan gerrymandering, so that voters choose their elected officials, not the elected officials choosing who votes for them. And we need to enact the bill now to give states time to implement these reforms.
As I noted, the Freedom to Vote Act has the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, and we have talked to our Republican colleagues about this as well as the John Lewis bill. Why have we done that? For decades, voting rights has been a bipartisan issue. In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized by a vote of 98-0. Yes, 2006. It's not that long ago. 98-0.
This bill already includes bipartisan proposals that included many of our Republican colleagues. I know the Honest Ads Act is in this bill. That's a bill that I did first with John McCain, who we so dearly miss, and now with Senator Graham. The Secure Elections Act, which is about backup paper ballots and making sure that we don't have foreign interference in our election. That's a bill that Senator Lankford and I introduced together with the support of Senator Burr and Warner and Senator Graham.
But in October, when we had a vote to open debate on the Freedom to Vote Act, not a single one of our Republican colleagues voted to even debate the bill. And I see Senator Murkowski is here, who did vote to allow debate on the John Lewis bill, which is very, very important to our country that she stood up and said look, I may not agree with everything in this bill, but we should allow for debate.
Let's be clear again, Article I Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States of America empowers Congress to make or alter rules for federal elections at any time. I believe this provision was designed to help us in times like these. In times where we're seeing an assault on elections, where people are increasingly starting to distrust the results of elections. In the face of complete obstruction on something so fundamental as the freedom to vote, we must restore the Senate with rule changes that will allow us to debate this bill.
Now, I just want to briefly address this. Throughout Senate history rules governing debate have changed multiple times.
We just somehow found a way to vote on what was good, that was the debt ceiling vote. A little bit of a change to allow us to do that with a 51-vote margin. In fact, there are already 161 exceptions, exceptions to the filibuster. Even the number of votes needed to end debate has changed. In 1975, Senator Mondale led the successful and bipartisan effort that reduced the cloture threshold from 67 to 60 votes. There have been cries for standing debates, standing, what's called the standing filibuster. Why is that? Because instead of an empty chamber right now – except for me and Senator Murkowski and the presiding officer from the great state of Nevada, there's no one else here.
And yet we have so many serious things before us. We have a continuing, raging pandemic. We have climate change that's causing weather events we never thought possible, including thunderstorms in the middle of the state of Minnesota in the middle of December. Never in history have we had a tornado warning in our state in the middle of December. We've had tragedies across the Midwest with storms and magnitudes we never thought possible. We’ve had rising oceans. Are we discussing that? No. Are we discussing voting and what's happening in this country right now, except for me giving this long speech? No, we're not. So I think we know that this isn't the Senate that's supposed to be the world's greatest deliberative body, that's supposed to allow us to have votes on amendments and discussions on serious issues. Not to ram through things, but to have discussions on serious issues so we can make decisions.
You think the rest of the world isn't watching what's going on here right now? Simple attempts to do something about child care or preschool or reducing the prices of prescription drugs when we pay more in our country for prescription drugs than any other country in the world, and we're getting blocked from bringing those bills forward to have actual discussions on them or trying to fit them in little boxes of how they fit some archaic Senate rule? Even Senator Robert Byrd, a strong defender of Senate institutions, said when he was advocating for rule reforms way back in 1979, certain rules that were necessary must be changed to reflect changed circumstances.
Well, I think an all-out assault on our democracy, that's a changed circumstance where at least we should be debating the solution in this chamber. I think being unable to advance things that we know we have to tackle, not just immediate crises – because we're pretty good at those, we're pretty good with when a financial crisis occurs, or when we’ve got storms or floods or tornadoes or hurricanes, we're pretty good at getting the funds out and rescue help out there. But not everything is an immediate crisis. It's just a crisis about to happen. And our job, our duty when we take that oath, is to protect the Constitution. That's what we want to debate right now on this floor instead of another empty chamber.
And with the standing filibuster, requiring people to be here and debate and speak, it's not just an old movie then. It's real life, requiring people to actually be here and do their jobs. Big surprise – news bulletin. We're here debating real issues and legislation and voting on amendments and doing our jobs instead of just running back in here every four hours and making a vote and then going back out and making phone calls.
Protecting the freedom to vote has never been easy. Throughout our country's 245-year history, we've had to course correct to ensure that our democracy for the people, by the people, actually lived up to its ideals. Voting is how Americans control their government and hold elected officials accountable. So for anyone watching this at home, you want to hold people accountable? It's by making sure they have the right to vote so they can exercise their right to vote and their views at the polls in a safe way across this nation.
And you want to hold them accountable? It’s by actually having votes on bills and actually debating the issues of our time, as the rest of the world watches what should be the beacon of democracy. It strengthens our hand with the rest of the world, makes us stronger when our democracy is functioning and working and not when we have a bunch of people in here with bear spray and bayonets going after our police officers. That's the vision, I'm sorry to say, that much of the world saw less than a year ago. And that's not a lasting vision that we want of this chamber or of this democracy. Americans have fought and died to protect our freedom to vote. They've done so on the battlefield and in marches during the civil rights movement and 56 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed by this chamber and signed into law, we still continue this fight. But just as we know from those trying to keep their fellow Americans from voting, those trying to undermine our very system of government in state after state across the country, they are not going to stop until we make clear that there's something larger than ourselves. As John McCain used to say, there's nothing more liberating than a cause larger than yourself. That cause, my friends in this chamber, is our very democracy.
And that's why we won't stop. Our nation was founded on the ideals of democracy, and we've seen for ourselves in this building how we can't afford to take it for granted. We have a lot of work to do rebuilding our country, and no, we should not go home tomorrow. No, we should not, not when this is at stake. We must stand up for the salvation of our democracy and each day that we delay, it gets harder and harder to undo what is being done. We owe it to our country and to the future generation of Americans to take care of this country. We are the stewards, my friends, of this nation right now, and our democracy. So many people before us have found a way to do the right thing, and in the words of Bob Dole, a first-class democracy, the people deserve better than being treated like second-class citizens.
Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.
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