Senate leaves town without action on voting-rights bills

August 12, 2021

The Senate is finally leaving for its August recess—but, after passing the $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill, lawmakers won’t be acting on voting-rights legislation any time soon, The Daily Beast reports.

For months, progressives have held Congress’ annual August recess as a critical deadline for addressing voting and elections reforms. And now, that deadline is blown.

That’s not to say that—after they finished laying the groundwork for a $3.5 trillion economic package in the early hours of Wednesday morning, August 11— Democratic senators didn’t skip town without taking some kind of action. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) got 50 Democrats to get behind a procedural vote to tee up another vote on their signature For the People Act (S.1) elections bill—in September.

Then, Schumer’s requests to bring up another pair of election reforms were promptly blocked by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

With that, the senators promptly hit the exits, not to return until next month. The August fireworks that some progressives had hoped to see on the Senate floor failed to get off the ground.

According to The Daily Beast, “The now-familiar dynamic reinforces a cold, unchanged political reality for Democrats. Their election bills won’t become law unless all Democrats support changes to the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to pass bills—and the fact that nearly all of them support those election bills isn’t bringing about the rule-change as quickly as they want.”

The self-imposed deadline of August isn’t entirely superficial. The closer the 2022 midterm elections get, the less impactful Democrats’ proposals may be in countering the raft of GOP laws being enacted on the state level.

And on another front, many Democrats admit their window has closed to influence the once-in-a-decade congressional redistricting process, through which Republicans are expected to pick up seats in the narrowly divided House.

Their legislation has anti-gerrymandering provisions, but now there’s virtually no chance such provisions could take effect until the next round of redistricting in 2032.

“We are getting very close to a point where it’s tough to see that piece of it having a meaningful impact on 2022 lines,” said Dan Kalik, senior political adviser for the progressive group MoveOn.

Leaving town with all of this hanging over them didn’t sit well with Democratic senators. “It’s frustrating,” said Senator Alex Padilla (D-California), before the vote on Tuesday night. “But we keep up the fight.”

The activists who’ve spent months pushing those Democrats to pass democracy reforms sounded a similar note. Their focus now shifts to September, which will be no less packed than recent months, as Democrats prepare to muscle a partisan $3.5 trillion economic package through Congress.

 What we’re doing now is we’re trying to unify the Democrats between a single robust voting rights proposal,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia). “And then the next goal after that, we’ll see, but we’ve got to get everybody on board with a single robust proposal.”

As long as that Democratic unity is possible, advocates say, the push is alive. “It’s not a clear Waterloo moment. It’s more muddy,” said Ezra Levin, co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible, about the recess, which his group framed as the “Deadline for Democracy” in an organizing campaign.

“Nobody is in a space of, ‘Guys, we’re f**ked,’” he said.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

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