Democrats’ Top Priority Is to Reform Elections. Will It Be the Bill to Break the Filibuster?

February 22, 2021
In The News

Democrats have control of the House and Senate, and they want to use it to reform elections and make it easier to vote. But first, they’ll have to get past Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Congressional Democrats are pushing a sweeping package of voting rights, gerrymandering, election, campaign finance and ethics reforms, called the For the People Act. It’s listed as H.R. 1 in the House and S. 1 in the Senate, signifying that it is Democrats’ top legislative priority. For the past two decades, every bill labeled both H.R. 1 and S. 1 has become law. If the For the People Act is to pass, though, Democrats will need to surmount the one obstacle clogging up almost all legislation that doesn’t directly affect the federal budget: the filibuster. Democrats hold only 50 votes ― plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ to break ties ― and Republicans could easily use the filibuster to prevent voting reform. McConnell, who previously called the legislation “socialism” and a “power grab,” blocked it from a Senate vote in 2019.... Former President Barack Obama, Democratic lawmakers and activists are already paving the way to make that argument. At the funeral for civil rights hero and Democratic Rep. John Lewis last summer, Obama called the filibuster a “Jim Crow relic” and said that if Republicans dared to filibuster legislation to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act (a bill that is now named for Lewis), Democrats should not hesitate to eliminate the filibuster to pass the bill. The same could be argued of the For the People Act: Lewis and his staff wrote the entire first section, which greatly expands voting rights and limits voter suppression tactics. These reforms are all the more vital now, Democrats argue, as Republicans seek to pass new voter restrictions at the state level, spurred on by former President Donald Trump’s voter fraud lies. If Democrats don’t pull off these reforms now, they could be too late. They intend that the For the People Act become law. Whatever it takes. “It’s all systems go to try to make that happen,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the bill’s chief sponsor in the House.