Senate Republicans issued a slew of cataclysmic warnings on Tuesday as they tried to sink voting reform, claiming the Democrats’ top-priority package would dismantle faith in democracy and suppress millions of votes ― all as their own party pushes voting limitations nationwide.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the bill “Jim Crow 2.0.”
It’s an absurd comparison: Jim Crow laws were aimed at making it near-impossible for Black Americans to vote; Democrats’ bill (the For the People Act) would make voting easier, streamline registration processes and prevent partisan gerrymandering, among other reforms.
“This legislation is profoundly dangerous, and the reason it suppresses millions of votes is by allowing millions of people to vote illegally,” Cruz said during a Senate rules committee hearing on the bill. “That is the intended effect and that would be the actual effect of this bill. It dilutes the legal votes of American citizens.”
During a brief hallway interview after Cruz’s comments, HuffPost pointed out that Jim Crow-era voting laws actually stopped Black people from voting.
“And in this instance the Democrats want to stop the voters from voting Democrats out of power,” Cruz replied.
Republicans plan to spend the hearing offering countless amendments meant to tank the bill. Many of the voting reforms Democrats are proposing are popular with the public, which perhaps explains why Republicans are grasping at exaggerations, misleading statements and flat-out lies to push back.
Cruz claimed the bill is “intended to” register undocumented immigrants to vote ― it does not authorize this ― and is meant to benefit Democrats. And he refused to provide any evidence that the 18 states that allow for automatic voter registration had registered undocumented immigrants who voted in their elections.
He argued instead that the legislation is similar to Jim Crow laws in that both were pushed by Democrats; a statement that ignores the fact that the Democrats of that era were far different than members of the party today. Republicans claimed the bill is solely a power-grab to take over from local election boards, and that it would create mass voter fraud.
The arguments build on former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen, the 2016 election was rigged and that voting is, on the whole, rife with fraud. His claims helped motivate supporters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 and are being used across the country to push voting restrictions. Now they could help sink voting reform.
Passage was already a long shot: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has signaled the package must be bipartisan to win his support, meaning Senate Democrats currently don’t have 50 votes in favor, much less the 60 they’d need to bypass a filibuster.
But Democrats have vowed to fight hard for the bill, which they consider particularly necessary given state-level efforts to limit voting access.
Republicans said that Democrats are out for their own benefit.
“This legislation is designed to ensure that Democrats never lose another election,” Cruz said, despite Republicans picking up 14 House seats during the highest voter turnout in over 100 years in 2020.
“If this bill were to pass, nobody would have any confidence in [our democracy],” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, echoing the manufactured concerns about election integrity raised by pro-Trump lawmakers who challenged the 2020 election results. “None whatsoever. Let’s call it what it is. Put aside the flowery language. This is a partisan effort to take over how you conduct elections in our country.”
McConnell’s assertion ignores that confidence in U.S. elections was undermined by Trump’s lie that the Democratic Party orchestrated widespread voter fraud — a falsehood affirmed by 147 Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the election results. In fact, McConnell seemed to forget that this happened at all.
“Nobody on our side is going to argue that it’s pervasive,” McConnell said during the hearing, referring to voter fraud.
Republicans argued that decisions on voting laws should be left to state and local officials and that the bill goes too far in implementing national standards. They also argued that it gave too much power to Democrats in its overhaul of the Federal Election Commission by switching the number of commissioners from six to five, which would shift from three members of each party to two from each and one from neither. Critics say the oversight board’s current split, which is required by law, makes it ineffectual. The committee rejected an amendment from McConnell to strike the bill’s changes to the makeup of the FEC.
Throughout the day, the committee rejected a number of amendments from both Democrats and Republicans. Republican amendments not adopted by the committee included those requiring state agencies to verify the citizenship status of people automatically registered to vote, striking the provision mandating the disclosure of dark money, allowing states to prevent voters from affirming their status without showing photo ID, and limiting who may return an absentee ballot on behalf of a voter.
Democratic amendments that failed included one offered by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) aimed at preventing states from banning nonpartisan volunteers from providing water to voters waiting in line, as his home state did in its new election law.
The failure of Democratic amendments cast a light on the slim margin by which the party controls the Senate. With each party holding 50 members, Democrats only control the chamber because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. But committees are evenly divided, with nine members each on the Rules Committee. Amendments are not adopted when there is a tie in committee.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Republicans want to make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat” but that Democrats’ voting bill would do the opposite. HuffPost asked Blunt if he was trying to imply there was cheating in the last election, which he has previously said was not rigged.
“It does not imply that, though I am sure there was some cheating in the last election,” he said.