Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday launched broadsides against each other in a hearing on S.1, the controversial Democratic-backed elections bill that would make sweeping changes to how American elections work.
“Shame, shame, shame,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said while referring to GOP efforts to tighten voting rules on the state level in the wake of the 2020 election. He said those efforts are a key reason why the bill, officially titled the For the People Act, is needed.
McConnell, R-Ky., and Schumer are members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which is holding the hearing. It’s rare for Senate leaders to participate in a legislative hearing in the way both are Wednesday.
“Our move to equality, our move to fairness has been inexorable. But it didn’t happen on its own, it took mightly movements and decades of fraught” political fights, Schumer said. “I would like to ask my Republican colleagues, why are you so afraid of democracy?”
He said if Republicans get their way on “these vicious and often racist actions, third-world autocracy like Erdogan’s Turkey” is “on its way.”
McConnell shot back, saying it is Democrats who should be ashamed over how they’ve handled the voting bill. He cited a provision in the bill that would change the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) from a body with three Republicans and three Democrats to one with two members from each party and a third unaffiliated member appointed by the president.
“Talk about shame. If anybody ought to be feeling any shame around here, it’s turning the FEC into a partisan prosecutor, the majority controlled by the president’s party, to harass and intimidate the other side,” McConnell said. “That’s what you ought to be ashamed about.”
He also warned the bill is “an invitation to chaos” that state officials would not be able to implement before the 2022 midterms, with mandates on everything from how they can run early voting to the type of adhesive allowed for ballot envelopes.
“This is clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of our political system, but even more immediately it would create an implementation nightmare … that would drown state and local officials,” McConnell said.
He also said there is money in the bill that would end up going to campaign spending on “attack ads, bumper stickers, buttons and balloons.”
S.1 and its companion legislation, H.R.1, which passed the House with only Democratic votes, would also ban states from requiring photo ID to vote; raise barriers for states to clear voter rolls; require states to offer drop boxes for 45 days before an election and much more.
A group of 14 other Senate Republicans is participating in a press conference later Wednesday railing against S.1, the equivalent of more than 20% of their caucus.
“That’s another kind of metric that tells you how fired up they are,” a GOP aide said of the sentiment among GOP senators on S.1.
Republicans out of Congress have widely panned the bill as well. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose in an interview with Fox News Wednesday slammed the bill as “crisis opportunism” on behalf of Democrats.
“They are using the justification of the 2020 experience — pandemic and challenges that some states had — as an excuse to push through on a completely party-line vote, a list of agenda items that they’ve wanted to do for a long time,” LaRose said. He added that as Americans learn more about the bill in the hearing Wednesday they will “start to realize that it is a left-wing activist dream list.”
One of the provisions he listed to support that assertion is the change in the makeup of the FEC. LaRose and other Republicans have said this would make the FEC “partisan.” LaRose also raised constitutional concerns about the federal government dictating how states run their elections.
LaRose also noted that the bill includes broad statements supporting statehood for Washington, D.C.
“What the heck that has to do with improving elections?” he said.
Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., meanwhile lauded S.1 in her opening statement Wednesday.
“Efforts have been made to suppress the vote. Efforts have been made to introduce bills that would suppress the vote,” Klobuchar said of GOP-backed bills on the state level. “A dozen states including Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, have introduced legislation to limit access to vote by mail.”
“These are real threats to our democracy and the For The People Act takes them head-on in a common-sense way,” she said.