The top two Senate leaders made a rare appearance at a hearing Wednesday morning at which they delivered at-times heated testimony on a sweeping election bill that Democrats have introduced amid a push by Republican-led legislatures across the country to restrict voting.
The legislation under consideration is S. 1, the For the People Act, a version of which passed the House this month with no Republican support. The measure would create uniform national voting standards, overhaul campaign finance laws and outlaw partisan redistricting, among other steps.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Rules Committee, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered impassioned testimony on the Democratic legislation and on the GOP efforts at the state level.
Schumer said the restrictive voting laws introduced by GOP-led legislatures “smack of Jim Crow rearing its ugly face once again.”
“Today, now, in the 21st century, there is a concerted, nationwide effort to limit the right of American citizens to vote and to truly have a voice in their own government. … I would like to ask my Republican colleagues, Why are you so afraid of democracy?” Schumer said. “Why, instead of trying to win voters over that you lost in the last election, are you trying to prevent them from voting?”
Schumer pointed to one proposal in Arizona that would require absentee ballots to be notarized, asking how poor people would be able to afford to do so. “Is requiring a notary public any different than asking people to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar?” he asked. “I guarantee you the motivation is exactly the same.”
He also condemned legislation in Georgia that would restrict early voting to one Sunday — a move that critics say is aimed at stymieing the “Souls to the Polls” initiative by Black churches to get voters to cast early ballots on Sundays.
“It is shameful that our Republican colleagues are proposing these ideas in 2020 — the same kinds of ‘states’ rights’ that have been used from time immemorial to prevent certain people from voting,” Schumer said. “Shame, shame, shame.”
McConnell countered that Democrats are the ones who should be ashamed. He took aim at several of the legislation’s provisions, including one that would restructure the Federal Election Commission to an odd number of members to break partisan deadlocks.
“Talk about shame,” McConnell said. “If anybody ought to be feeling any shame around here, it’s turning the FEC into a partisan prosecutor, the majority controlled by the president’s party, to harass and intimidate the other side. That’s what you ought to be ashamed about.”
McConnell echoed other Republicans who have argued that most decisions on elections should be left to the states. The legislation is “just not ready for prime time” and would “force every state to rush through big changes,” he argued.
“It’s an invitation to chaos — chaos,” McConnell said. “State-level election officials, including Democrats, are sounding alarms left and right. This messaging bill would create a nightmare [if it] actually became law.”
Aaron Blake contributed to this report.