ATLANTA – Senate Democrats will campaign for sweeping federal suffrage laws en route to Georgia Monday, calling a rare hearing in a state at the center of a national battle for elections.
At an on-site hearing in Atlanta, senators are due to hear testimony from Georgians directly affected by the restrictive new electoral law signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp this spring. But their real goal is to influence a debate more than 500 miles away in Washington in which Democrats are trying to revive a deadlocked Senate election overhaul to make voting easier and to offset many of the changes that Republicans in states like Georgia prevailed.
“If you just stay in Washington and are doused and stalled by our archaic Senate proceedings, you lose sight of what you are fighting for,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and chair of the rules committee convening the meeting, said in one Interview.
A first attempt by the Democrats to debate their revision, the For the People Act, failed last month in the Senate in the face of united Republican opposition. Democrats are now trying to retool, but it is unclear whether their chances of success will improve as long as key moderate senators refuse to change the Senate filibuster rule, which gives Republicans a virtual veto over their agenda.
The party leaders work with Senator Joe Manchin III. West Virginia, the fiercest Democratic opponent of the measure, is working on a closer draft compromise that could be re-voted in August or fall. They are also preparing additional laws named after the late Georgia civil rights activist John Lewis to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This could also be voted on in the autumn.
Given the likelihood that both efforts would fail amid Republican opposition, Democrats have begun to include more modest voting rights in the party’s $ 3.5 trillion budget bill, which they are pushing through with a simple majority in the Senate.
The hearing at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights here is the first time the rules committee meets outside of the Capitol in two decades, and Ms. Klobuchar has announced that more on-site hearings will follow.
Among the witnesses are Sally Harrell, a Democratic State senator from suburban Atlanta; Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda; and José Segarra, a voter from south-central Georgia. Senator Raphael Warnock, whose unlikely victory in a runoff election here in January left control of the Senate to the Democrats, is also expected to speak to the panel.
The Republicans on the rules committee, led by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, do not plan to attend the hearing. They have fought at every turn to obstruct Democratic electoral reform by holding the bill in committee and later in the Senate while arguing that it was an unjustified takeover by the Democrats.
“This silly ploy is based on the same lie as the Democrats’ false hysteria from Georgia to Texas to Washington, DC and beyond – their efforts to pretend that moderate state electoral laws have more generous pre-election rules than blue states like New York is some kind of evil attack on our democracy, “Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, minority leader, said in a statement.