Klobuchar: “I urge all of my colleagues to do what the American people are asking us to do -- to do what’s right...We can’t wait in line, and we can’t make the people of America wait in line. The time to do this is now.”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections and campaign finance law, spoke on the Senate floor today urging the Senate to being debate on the For The People Act, legislation Klobuchar and colleagues introduced in the Senate that would make voting easier, get secret money out of politics, and strengthen ethics rules. Klobuchar delivered the floor speech just minutes before the Senate’s vote to proceed to the legislation, which was supported by all members of the Democratic caucus.
In her remarks, Klobuchar announced that the Rules Committee will hold a series of hearings on the urgent need to pass critical voting, campaign finance, and ethics reforms, including a field hearing in Georgia to hear testimony on the recently enacted legislation to restrict voting in the state.
Senator Klobuchar: Madam President, I come to the floor to speak in support of proceeding to debate legislation that is critical to our democracy. Legislation that is based on two simple ideas: that Americans must be able to freely choose their elected officials and that government must be accountable to the people, not to those with the most money.
These are not Democratic or Republican ideas, they are core American ideas.
But for too long, these rights have been under attack. Which is why we need the critical democracy reforms in the For the People Act. I am honored to be leading this legislation with Senators Merkley and Schumer and to have worked with my colleagues as Chair of the Rules Committee, work with my colleagues in the House, and civil rights and democracy reform groups, and, you, Madam President, to bring this bill forward today.
The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms. It is how Americans control their government and hold elected officials accountable. It is the bedrock of our government. It is the founding principle of our country, and has stood the test of wars, of economic strife, and yes, a global pandemic.
But protecting this right has not always been easy -- throughout our country’s 245-year history, we’ve had to course correct and take action to ensure that democracy is for the people, and by the people, and it has lived up to our ideals.
At the beginning of this year, we were reminded on January 6th that it is up to us to protect against threats to our democracy, to ensure that it succeeds. I still remember that moment, 3:30 in the morning, when Senator Blunt and I -- and, yes, Vice President Pence -- walked from this chamber with the two young women with the mahogany box full of those last ballots to get over to the House to finish our jobs so that you, Madam President, were declared the Vice President and President Biden was declared the President. That's upholding our democracy. That’s doing it together, Democrats and Republicans doing our job. And what this bill is about to me: this bill is about carrying on that torch to protect our democracy.
Today the vote to begin debate on this legislation will likely get the support of all 50 Democrats. Senator Manchin, along with the rest of our caucus, has made clear to the country that standing up for the right to vote is bigger than any one person or thing -- it’s about us. It’s about us as Americans. I deeply appreciate the work he has put into the proposal he’s putting forward today and I look forward to continuing our discussions with him. He is doing this in good faith. There are many good things in that proposal.
And today we are together to reaffirm -- we will not give up this fight. We will not give up this fight. It is just beginning.
The 2020 election showed that you can make it safer to vote while giving voters the options that work for them. If it’s vote by mail -- I see my colleague Senator Smith here. Minnesota is so proud of our same day registration, that's worked for us, it’s made us number one in voter turnout in the country time and time and time again. Many states during the pandemic took steps exactly like that, extending options for voters like safe vote by mail. And now 34 states have no excuse -- vote by mail -- 34 states.
The result: nearly 160 million Americans voted -- more than ever before, and in the middle of a pandemic! I still remember the voters in the primary in Wisconsin, standing in makeshift garbage bags, with makeshift masks over their face, in the middle of a rain storm, in the middle of a pandemic, standing in line to vote. And in an election that the Trump Department of Homeland Security declared the most secure in our history, the American people elected, yes, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
But in the wake of that historic election, there has been a pervasive, coordinated, and overwhelming effort to undermine the freedom to vote in future elections with over 400 bills introduced in legislatures across the country. 22 laws to restrict voting have been enacted in 14 states, and 31 more bills to roll back the right to vote have passed at least one chamber of a state legislature.
As Reverend Warnock put it in this chamber in his maiden speech as Senator, “some people don’t want some people to vote.” That is what's going on here.
The new law in Georgia makes it harder to request mail-in ballots, drastically limits ballot drop boxes, and makes it a crime to hand water and food to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots, when in previous elections Georgians have stood in line for up to 10 hours to vote.
One of the new Montana laws ended same-day registration on Election Day after it had been in practice in the state for 15 years, with Senator Tester joining me in trying to bring this practice across -- when we introduced this bill -- across this nation.
In the weeks ahead, similar bills are expected to pass in even more states, including Texas, where the governor has promised to call the legislature into a special session to pass a bill to restrict voting that was blocked at the end of regular session thanks to the heroic efforts of Democrats in the state legislature that blessed us with their presence just last week.
These are not empty threats. They are real efforts to disenfranchise regular Americans from voting -- senior citizens, people with disabilities, people that can’t stand in line for ten hours just to wait to vote.
In the face of these efforts to roll back voting rights in so many states, the For the People Act is about setting basic national standards to make sure all voters in this country can vote legally in the way that works for them, regardless of what zip code they live in, regardless of if they live in a big city, in a suburb, or out in a small town in western Minnesota.
It is about reducing the power of big money in our elections by ending secret spending by billionaires and special interests, and it is about making anti-corruption reforms to ensure politicians work for the people, not for themselves.
Republicans have said that this bill is designed to provide a political advantage. But as former Republican Commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, the Chair under George Bush, Trevor Potter has said in explaining his support for this bill, and he appeared as a witness in my hearing for this bill, he said: “This bill does not give power to any particular party over another; it gives power back to the voters.”
And giving power back to the voters is exactly what we need. There is an amplified attack on the right to vote this year, but we’ve seen serious efforts to restrict voting rights since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act eight years ago. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 that marked the cornerstone achievement for the civil rights movement and became the law because of the tireless work of people like John Lewis who put their lives on the line to secure voting rights. 56 years later, we are still fighting that battle.
At the same time, we haven’t had meaningful campaign finance or ethics reforms.
Our democracy desperately needs the proposals in this bill. And guess what? The American people agree. Yeah, this bill is bipartisan, except right here in this place. It's bipartisan because one poll released recently found that 78 percent of Americans, including 63 percent of Republicans, support making early in-person voting available for at least two weeks before Election Day. That’s a proposal in our original For the People. It’s in the manager’s amendment that we are voting on cloture on, and it is in Senator Manchin’s proposal.
Another poll found that 83 percent of likely voters support public disclosure of contributions to groups involved in elections. Also the Disclose Act in all three proposals. And yet some of my Republican colleagues want to limit disclosures -- by the way disclosures were championed by Justice Scalia -- and yet, what happened in our committee hearing on this, our markup? Republicans filed amendment after amendment to gut those provisions of the bill.
So while they may claim, my friends on the other side of the aisle, that this isn’t popular, it is just not true. They claim it’s not bipartisan. It is just not true.
The bill contains nine bipartisan bills -- including the Honest Ads Act, which I first introduced with Senator John McCain and Senator Warner, and now Senator Lindsey Graham took up that cause. Our provisions -- that provision would finally hold the social media companies accountable to make sure there are disclaimers and disclosures on political ads. The work that I’ve done with Senator Lankford, and you, Madam President, when you were in the Senate to make sure we have backup paper ballots. We still have eight states that don’t have backup paper ballots. That provision is in this bill.
Many of the bill’s provisions have already been adopted in red, blue, and purple states, and have the support of governors and election officials from both parties.
21 states have same-day voter registration, including red states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Iowa. That's great but our question should be, “Why don’t all 50 states have it?” Especially when the Constitution of the United States specifically says that Congress can make and alter rules for federal elections. It is as clear as the words on the page.
20 states have automatic voter registration laws, including Alaska, Georgia, and West Virginia. 45 states allowed all voters to vote by mail in the 2020 election and 44 states have early voting.
What this bill does is to take the best of the best and put in place minimum standards so that no matter what state you call home, you have access to the ballot box. That is why Senator Merkley has worked so hard on this legislation. That is why Senator Schumer made this bill Senate file number one.
The bill that we are voting to advance includes changes that directly respond to concerns about implementation from both Democratic and Republican state and local officials.
We heard those concerns and the Democrats on the Rules Committee -- which included Senator Warner and Senator King -- we worked on that manager's amendment and made it easier for rural areas, extended the time systems, and got at their concerns. And then Senator Manchin has come up with more ideas and more things that we can do to make the bill strong.
We heard from election officials that requiring states to accept mail-in ballots for too long after Election Day would delay them from certifying the results, so we shortened the window.
I could go on and on and on. In good faith we have worked to make this bill work for America and now it is time to allow for debate on this bill.
Our Republican friends on the other side of this aisle, they say this bill -- this was one thing that Senator McConnell would say in the hearing -- that it would cause chaos. I say this: chaos is a five-hour wait to vote. Senior citizens standing in the hot sun for five hours, for ten hours. That is chaos.
Chaos is purging eligible voters from voter rolls, and modern day poll taxes, and one ballot box for a county of 5 million people, which is exactly what they did in Harris County, Texas. That is exactly what is happening in that state right now.
Chaos is voters in Wisconsin waiting in line to vote for hours in the rain in their homemade masks and plastic garbage bags.
The angry mob on January 6th that came into this very chamber, that spray painted the columns, that attacked police officers, that injured people left and right? That is chaos.
As I said from the stage on Inauguration Day under that bright blue sky where you could still see the spray paint at the bottom of those columns and the makeshift windows we had in place, I said this: This is the day our democracy picks itself up, brushes off the dust, and does what America always does: goes forward as a nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Well, we cannot do that if Americans are disenfranchised, if they are not part of our democracy.
Republicans have sadly made it clear that this is not legislation they are willing to negotiate or even debate. They won’t even give it a week. They won’t even give it a few days. Just last week, they held a press conference to tell the American people that they don’t believe Congress should act to protect the right to vote or get rid of secret money in our elections.
So, honestly, I would love to get some support from the other side of the aisle, but we have to be honest. I don’t expect we’re going to get it.
So my Republican colleagues: this is not the end of the line for this bill. This is not the end of the line. This is only the beginning. Because if you have your way, those voters won’t just be at the end of the line. They’re not going to be able to vote.
In the Rules Committee, we will be holding a series of hearings, not just one hearing, a series of hearings, and we are taking it on the road for the first time in a long time. We are going to Georgia and holding a field hearing there so we can hear firsthand from people in the state on what is happening and why we must carry out the constitutional duty in this chamber to act.
And I urge my Republican colleagues to recognize the work being done in states to restrict the freedom of Americans to exercise their sacred right to vote. Our nation was founded on the ideals of democracy and we’ve seen for ourselves, in this building, how we can never take it for granted.
We can’t let state legislators get to pick and choose who votes, and what votes get counted. That’s not how a democracy works.
I urge all of my colleagues to do what the American people are asking us to do, and to do what is right. Vote today to bring us closer to passing legislation to strengthen our democracy.
We can’t wait in line, and we can’t make the people of America wait in line. The time to do this is now.
Thank you, Madam President, I yield the floor.
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