KLOBUCHAR: “It is up to us to turn back that tide and to preserve the right that lies at the bedrock of our system of government.”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight of federal elections and campaign finance laws, closed a day of floor speeches by urging her colleagues to update Senate rules to enable the passage of federal legislation to protect our democracy.
“Over the years we’ve made improvements to address wrongs that kept too many Americans from joining in on the rights on which our nation was founded. Generation after generation, Americans have believed truly in our country's founding promise, that they fought for it, they died for it. We are here today against that backdrop of history at a time when our democracy is facing a new wave of threats,” she said.
Klobuchar pressed her colleagues to consider the impact restrictive voting laws across the country have had on Americans, noting: “We're here because the people of this country know what's going on…We're here because, after a record number of voters voted to make their voices heard, there are people sadly that are working in every state capital to make sure it never happens again.”
Klobuchar also highlighted the need to reform Senate rules to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, reminding her colleagues that “for every one of these laws that have passed, in 19 different states, it has been with a simple majority. State by state by state. A simple majority.”
“With history's eyes on us and with so much at stake, we must and we will fight on,” she concluded.
I rise today after hearing from my friend, Senator Blunt. I remember on January 6th, as all of you do that day, when he and I and Vice President Pence and two young women with the mahogany box filled with the last of the ballots – up to Wyoming – took that long walk, that long walk through the shattered glass, the spray painted statues, and we did our jobs. And I will be forever grateful for what he did that night and what so many people in this chamber did. But for me it didn't end that night. Because sadly, what wasn't accomplished by the people that rifled through these desks and got up on that dais, Madam Vice President, what wasn't accomplished with bear spray, what wasn’t accomplished with the bayonets, and I still remember the blood on the officers’ faces – sadly, has continued on. Continued on.
The votes that we took that night were important, but the votes that the people of this country take in every election are just as important. And that's why when you look at the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, you have to understand what it is grounded in and that is our belief in our democracy. I want to thank every single member of the Democratic Caucus that has worked so hard to agree on this bill. And I will say the Voting Rights Group, the Rules Committee, and I do differ from Senator Blunt on this. We spent a lot of time making changes to that bill over the year. We have made many changes in response to concerns from Secretaries of State and local election officials all across this country. And I also thank you [Madam Vice President] and the President for your leadership.
Since this country's founding, when brave patriots rose up and ultimately established a country in the name of “We the People,” America has been a shining beacon for the world, a touchstone for democracy. We’ve traveled the world as senators, as Senator Shaheen and Portman and I and several of our Democratic and Republican colleagues did just this weekend, when we went to decry dictators and bullies who attempt to undermine democracies as Vladamir Putin is doing in Ukraine. We were proud to wear lapel pins with the Ukrainian flag on one side and the United States flag on the other. We are proud of our democracy and that democracy is fundamentally based on the freedom to vote.
Over the years we’ve made improvements to address wrongs that kept too many Americans from joining in on the rights on which our nation was founded. Generation after generation, Americans have believed truly in our country's founding promise, that they fought for it, they died for it. We are here today against that backdrop of history at a time when our democracy is facing a new wave of threats, a flood that has surged up since the 2020 elections when more Americans cast a ballot than ever before as a pandemic raged.
And it is up to us to turn back that tide and to preserve the right that lies at the bedrock of our system of government. And again, I disagree with Senator Blunt about what has been going on. I look at the law that was passed in Montana that Senator Tester described.
That was set in place for 15 years for same-day registration in the state of Montana, 15 years in the last election. Over 8,000 people took advantage of it on Election Day, either newly registering to vote or changing their address because they moved. It was just taken away from them with what one court described for another law years ago in North Carolina, surgical precision. Or you look at what Senator Ossoff and Senator Warnock described, what has happened in Georgia. 70,000 people registered during the last weeks of the elections, in the runoff period. 70,000 people in the last election, that has been stripped away, passed into law, that that cannot happen again.
The Founding Fathers knew that our democracy would face obstacles. A lot of people have been quoting them. I'll quote this one, Samuel Adams. He said this, “The liberties of our country are worth defending at all hazards and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.”
When you have over 9,000 threats against Members of Congress in just last year – double, triple what we've seen before – I don't see that walk we took, that really important walk, that ended that day. When you have local election officials across this country being threatened, the names of their kids and their homes put out on the internet, like the Republican local election official in Senator Casey's home state of Pennsylvania. His house, his kids, with a threat that said, “Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot.”
It's on all of us to uphold and protect this democracy. The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act meets the challenges before us by establishing basic federal standards for our elections, restoring and strengthening the Voting Rights Act, countering the power of secret money in our politics, and taking on new threats to our elections to ensure that every vote is properly counted. And, again, let me read from the Constitution, from Article I, Section 4. That clause empowers Congress to “make or alter rules for federal elections at any time.” At any time. As Senator Kaine noted, that's the only time “at any time” -- that any time is used in the Constitution. At any time. The word filibuster isn't in this document. The word cloture isn't in this document. But it was anticipated that Congress could and should be involved in federal elections when necessary. What brought us to the point today? We're here in the midst of a concerted effort to stop people from exercising the most fundamental right in our democracy, because, as Reverend Warnock has put so well, “Some people don't want some people to vote.”
We're here because the people of this country know what's going on. I'm talking about a veteran in Georgia, who didn't have to stand in line to serve his country, but he had to -- I met him myself -- he had to stand in line, hours and hours and hours in the hot sun, just to cast a ballot. We're here because of those voters in Wisconsin who stood in the rain in homemade masks and garbage bags in the beginning of a pandemic just to exercise their right to vote. We're here because of a voter in a wheelchair in Texas who traveled three hours on four buses round-trip just to vote. A woman in Montana who had open-heart surgery, uncertain about how to return her mail ballot. A former election official from a rural county was ousted by Republicans in the Georgia legislature after a decade of service. And a 92 -year-old woman who was purged from the rolls after voting in every election for decades since 1968. We're here because, after a record number of voters voted to make their voices heard, there are people sadly that are working in every state capital to make sure it never happens again.
And I note that for every one of these laws that have passed, in 19 different states, it has been with a simple majority. State by state by state. A simple majority.
And then, as was noted by several of my colleagues, after this chamber has established over 160 carve-outs, 160 processes in law to allow for a final vote without a 60-vote threshold,. Whether it's for the debt ceiling, whether it's for the Bush tax cuts, whether it's for the Trump tax cuts, whether it is for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, 51 votes. Now we hear, at this very moment, that we must embrace this archaic rule that is not in the Constitution and did not exist when the Senate was founded.
And we're not even talking about getting rid of this rule. We're simply talking about restoring the Senate to what it once was so we can have debates and we can actually vote on bills when those debates have concluded and when the speeches are exhausted. We're here because we took an oath to defend the Constitution as we did that night on January 6th. We're here because we know that the eyes of the world are on us, watching to see if America will stand up and take on the challenges of our time.
To paraphrase Dr. King, whose legacy has been honored many, many times today, while there may be finite disappointment in this country for so many people every day, we must never lose infinite hope.
We're not losing it. That, my friends, is why we, on the Democratic side of the aisle, are supporting this bill. With history's eyes on us and with so much at stake, we must and we will fight on. Thank you. I yield the floor.
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