Paul Ryan Supports A New Voting Rights Act, But He's Not Doing Anything To Pass It

"Lip service is not public service," critics say.
Evan Vucci/Bloomberg

Speaker Paul Ryan says he supports a renewed Voting Rights Act that is currently stuck in committee -- he just isn't going to do much about it.

Ryan told reporters Thursday "it's no secret" he backs a VRA bill written by fellow Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner. (Ryan told black lawmakers on Wednesday that he supports the bill, which was written after the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Voting Rights Act that designates which states must have voter laws cleared by the federal government.)

But Ryan also said "it's no secret" he supports regular order -- meaning he won't subvert the normal legislative process and put a bill on the floor that hasn't passed through committee.

The problem, as Ryan knows, is that the House Judiciary Chairman, Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), seems to have no intention of voting in committee on that voting rights bill. Goodlatte has said rewriting the Section 4 provisions that the Supreme Court struck down is not necessary.

While Ryan contends these sorts of situations are bound to happen in a bottom-up approach to lawmaking, many Democrats feel restoring key provisions of the Voting Rights Act should be a top priority. They note that a key power of the speaker is making sure bills don't get held up in committee because of an obstinate chairman, particularly when that bill would find a sizable majority in support on the House floor.

After Ryan's statement, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a civil rights group, blasted him in a statement that said, in part, "Lip service is not public service."

Technically, it's the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, who schedules floor time for bills, as Ryan noted on Thursday. Ryan expressed support for a slate of criminal justice reform bills that have passed out of committee and said he expects McCarthy to schedule floor time for them.

But Democrats still don't seem satisfied with Ryan's answer.

On Thursday, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) bashed Republicans on the House floor for seeming to wash their hands of the VRA in the name of regular order.

"If regular order precludes democracy from working," Hoyer said, "then it's irregular order."

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