Amid chants of “Recess can wait, democracy can’t,” nearly 150 state lawmakers from 30 states came to Washington on Tuesday to rally with Democratic U.S. senators and representatives and call on the Senate to suspend its August recess to pass voting rights and anti-gerrymandering legislation.
These lawmakers arrived as reinforcements for the 50 Texas Democratic state legislators who fled their state 23 days ago in order to deny state House Republicans a quorum. The GOP lawmakers were trying to pass an election law that would make it harder for predominantly Democratic voting constituencies to vote and easier for Republican officials to overturn the results of elections they don’t like.
“When we arrived here, we said that our job was to rally the nation and bring people to Washington, D.C., because just by chance we would not only get the Senate to hear us, we would get them to act,” said Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat.
State lawmakers, like those Texas Democrats who fled their state, have since become the faces of the campaign to pressure the Senate to pass the For The People Act, a package of voting rights, campaign finance, ethics and redistricting reforms that the House passed in May and that Senate Republicans filibustered in June.
These lawmakers are directly facing down the ongoing threat created by former President Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and inspired hundreds of GOP voter suppression and election subversion bills that Democrats are fighting in committees and on the floors of their statehouses.
“This is the delta variant of Jim Crow voting laws and the only vaccination is federal legislation,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said at the rally.
The U.S. Census Bureau is preparing to release its congressional redistricting data on Aug. 16. The For The People Act would require states to create independent and nonpartisan redistricting processes to draw new districts. Supporters of the bill believe that if it passes before Aug. 16, states would be prevented from unfairly manipulating voting districts ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The state lawmakers called on President Joe Biden to use the full power of his office to push the Senate to pass the legislation and for the Senate to change its filibuster rules to allow it to pass with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes it currently takes to begin and end debate on most legislation.
“We sent Senator Warnock and Senator Ossoff to give Democrats the majority to get the job done ― and not just for Georgians, not just for Democrats, but for all Americans,” said Georgia state Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democrat who is running for secretary of state in Georgia in 2022. “Our democracy is in peril and we need federal protection now.”
“Now, I know some Democrats support keeping the filibuster because it moderates large swings in policy no matter who’s in charge, but in this very moment, the only thing it’s doing is impeding justice ― long-overdue justice for communities that have been targeted for systematic voter suppression,” said Georgia state Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Democrat.
Every U.S. senator and representative who attended the rally on Tuesday joined the state lawmakers in calling to change the Senate’s filibuster rules. They included Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Bob Casey (Penn.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.) and Warnock and Rep. John Sarbanes (Md.), the bill’s lead sponsor in the House.
Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), a co-sponsor of the For The People Act, and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who opposed the bill until days before it hit the Senate floor in June, remain the only Democratic senators who openly oppose changing the Senate’s filibuster rules. Others may agree with them, but none have said so publicly. To have any chance of passing the For The People Act, its supporters must convince these two Democrats to drop their objections to changing filibuster rules.
West Virginia state delegate Mike Pushkin demonstrated at the rally how West Virginians have been trying to convince Manchin to change his mind. That is, with a heaping dose of praise.
Pushkin praised Manchin for reaching a compromise agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the bill’s co-lead sponsors, Klobuchar and Merkley, to obtain his support for the bill. He praised Manchin for working on the amendment that will replace the current For The People Act, which has not yet been publicly released. And he called on everyone in attendance to praise Manchin, too.
“I’m confident that my senator and my friend Joe Manchin will seize this moment and break Mitch McConnell’s stranglehold on our democracy and get the job done before the Senate recess,” Pushkin said. “So, I urge everyone attending to call Senator Manchin’s office and thank him for offering this fair and reasonable proposal and let him know how much we appreciate him standing up for our democracy.”
So far, Manchin has not budged from his opposition to changing the filibuster rules.
Biden has also refused to make any definitive statement on the filibuster as it relates to preventing the passage of voting rights laws. In a major speech at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, he called the Republican push for voter suppression and election subversion legislation based on Trump’s lies “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.” But he never once mentioned the filibuster, the only obstacle to passing legislation that would pass that test.
“We delivered for Biden,” Nguyen said at the rally. “We delivered those two U.S. Senate seats ― Senator Warnock and Senator Ossoff ― in spite of voter suppression. We organize because we know our voting rights are on the chopping block.”
She added, however: “Let me be clear, we cannot out-organize the subversion of democracy. Let me be clear, we cannot out-organize power-hungry Republicans who are currently trying to steal power away from our local elections boards. We cannot out-organize partisan gerrymandering that allows politicians to pick their voters and not the other way around.”
What was clear among all of the rally speakers and attendees was that the Republican effort to make it harder for communities of color to vote and easier to overturn unwanted election results in counties and jurisdictions with large Black, Latino and Native American populations is just the most recent entry in America’s history of racism.
“We needed federal intervention in 1865,” said Mississippi state Rep. Omeria Scott, a Democrat. “We needed federal intervention in Mississippi in 1965. And we need federal intervention in Mississippi and all over this country in 2021.”