The Senate is set for a major clash Wednesday on one of the Democrats’ top priorities with a hearing on S.1, the Senate version of the controversial elections bill known as H.R.1 in the House, which would make broad changes to how American elections are run.
Democrats say the bill will bolster voting rights and therefore civil rights, while Republicans argue it is simply aimed at solidifying Democratic control of government. The hearing in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will start at 10 a.m.
“They want to change the system to benefit themselves and they want to have instead of a referee they want the FEC to be a prosecutor,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday on the “Ruthless” podcast.
He was referring to a provision in the bill that changes the Federal Elections Commission from a 3-3 partisan split to five total members, with two from each party and a fifth unaffiliated with either but appointed by the president.
“So this is not about anything other than trying to help the Democrats win elections in perpetuity,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., however, has said S.1 would “combat all of these voter suppression efforts by restoring critical parts of the Voting Rights Act… make it easier — not harder — to vote by automatically registering American voters when they get a driver’s license… limit dark money and corruption in our politics, and much more.”
McConnell and Schumer notably both sit on the Rules and Administration Committee.
S.1 and its House companion are massive, sweeping pieces of legislation that 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; reshape the FEC and much more. It represents a vast expansion of the federal government’s role in elections administered by states.
Democrats have framed H.R. 1 and S.1 as major civil rights priorities and are expected to say the bill represents nothing less at the hearing Wednesday.
“Every American — regardless of the color of their skin, where they live, or how much money they have — deserves a seat at the table and an equal voice in their government,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a member of the committee, said in a statement. “We must tackle every obstacle, from partisan gerrymandering, to massive sums of dark money, to voter suppression, that are keeping us from fully realizing the promise of an equal and just America.”
Added committee Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.: “The For the People Act is essential to protecting every American’s right to vote, getting dark money out of our elections, and making sweeping anti-corruption reforms.”
But Republicans are expected to be combative at the hearing, arguing that S.1 is misguided at best, a naked power grab at worst, and that it will harm election security. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., a member of the committee, tore into S.1 in a statement shared with Fox News Tuesday.
“If you like the way the Democrats are handling border security, just wait until they get their hands on election security. This so-called ‘For the People’ act is another misnamed act here in Washington — it should be called ‘For the Politicians’ because what it does — it allows Democrats, to federalize our election system,” Hagerty said.
“The Constitution is very clear in Article II Section 1, that state legislatures have the sole responsibility for setting the election laws,” he continued. “What happens in this bill, they want to take all of that away through an absolute power grab by incentivizing dangerous behavior: internet registration, no photo ID requirement, automatic felon voting. One of the things that concerns me the most is the ability for people to ballot harvest.”
Outside of the hearing itself, Senate Republicans are set to hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon where they will shun S.1. A GOP aide told Fox News they expect between eight and 12 senators to participate, the equivalent of about 20% of the conference.
“That’s another kind of metric that tells you how fired up they are,” the GOP aide said of the sentiment among GOP senators on S.1.
The aide also noted that the first 10 bill numbers in each chamber are reserved for the majority party, adding that “when H.R.1 and S.1 in both chambers are essentially the takeover of the election system, that’s a pretty clear statement of [Democrats’] priorities.”
Outside GOP organizations are also forcefully pushing senators to oppose H.R.1 and S.1.
Heritage Action, the conservative advocacy group associated with the Heritage Foundation, has labeled the bills — technically named the For the People Act — the “Corrupt Politicians Act.” The group told Fox News it has sent 280,000 text messages asking people to contact their senators to oppose the bill and the activists associated with the group have sent 300,000 peer-to-peer texts.
“The Corrupt Politicians Act is an unprecedented attack on free and fair elections,” Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson said. “It would stop states from strengthening their election laws and would transfer power to unelected bureaucrats and Washington politicians. This is the number one threat to voting rights in America, and our grassroots members know it. The Senate must act to stop this disastrous bill in its tracks.”
Liberal groups, meanwhile, are wholeheartedly behind S.1 and H.R.1.
“The right to vote is our most fundamental right. It is the right upon which all our other rights rest, and the right that protects our democracy,” Wade Henderson, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ interim president and CEO, said after the House passed H.R.1. He added the legislation “will bolster our democracy by breaking down barriers to voting, expanding access to the ballot box, and ensuring the challenges voters faced last year won’t happen in the next election. This bill is a critical step towards strengthening our democracy, and we urge the Senate to take up this legislation swiftly.”
Schumer, Klobuchar and Senate Democrats may in fact attempt to “swiftly” advance the bill. But they are likely to run into a buzzsaw in the legislative filibuster. It’s doubtful they can get enough Republicans on board to clear that 60-vote hurdle — if any at all.
“S.1, the so-called ‘For the People’ Act, would create problems where problems currently do not exist,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said in a statement to Fox News. “The For the People Act dramatically upends the careful balance between our Federal and State governments that our Constitution and Founders created. I support electoral reforms, but I want to make our elections more secure, not more ripe for fraud like this bill would do. If you are truly for the people and our Constitution, you will oppose S.1.”