January 19, 2022

ICYMI: On Senate Floor, Warren Calls on the Senate to End the Filibuster and Protect Voting Rights

“This week, the eyes of the nation and the entire world are on the United States Senate. We can choose to protect a tool of Jim Crow and segregation that is found nowhere in the Constitution. Or we can choose to defend the sacred right to vote.”

Watch the Floor Speech HERE

Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered floor remarks about the urgent need to pass voting rights legislation to protect our democracy from Republicans who are launching coordinated attacks at the state level to restrict voting access and silence the voices of millions of Americans.

Watch Senator Warren’s full remarks HERE.

Below are the Senator’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Madam President, I rise today to urge the Senate to take action to protect voting rights and defend our democracy.

Voting is foundational to our democracy. In a strong, functioning democracy, the playing field is level. Citizens have a right to vote, and neither one side nor the other has the right to block those voters from the ballot box or from getting their votes counted. That basic premise no longer holds in America.  

Let’s be blunt: American democracy is under attack from Republican politicians. In the past year alone, Republican state legislatures have passed laws in nearly 20 states to restrict American citizens’ right to vote. The Republican nominees to the Supreme Court have destroyed longstanding protections against dark money in politics, given the greenlight to partisan gerrymandering, and gutted the Voting Rights Act. Republican dark-money networks are bankrolling voter-suppression efforts with hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying and advertising. And for years and years, Republican Donald Trump and Republican politicians have spread lies about the integrity of our elections. Last January 6, a Republican President, backed up by Republicans right here in the Senate, provoked a deadly insurrection at our nation’s Capitol. And in the intervening year, Republican leaders have refused to accept the evidence of President Biden’s 7 million vote victory over Donald Trump, instead feeding conspiracies and lies that further undermine our democracy. 

Yes, American democracy is under attack, and fifty Democratic Senators agree on the right response to this attack. The Freedom to Vote Act would guarantee that every American citizen can easily vote and get their vote counted. The act would defend against attempts to overturn the will of the people. It would reform our broken campaign-finance system and help root out dark money. And critically important, it would ban partisan gerrymandering by either side. The companion bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would restore historic protections against state laws that have the purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of race.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans would rather destroy our democracy than have free and fair elections. And so they support those around the country who are trying to block access to voting and who are trying to rig how votes get counted. 

Elections are about the will of the majority. But the Republicans in the Senate don’t want what a majority of Americans want. In fact, the 50 Republicans in the Senate together represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than the Democratic majority. But instead of taking a simple vote to protect American citizens’ access to the polls, they want to stop legislation to defend the very foundation of our democracy from even getting a vote on the floor. 

Let me be clear: the filibuster has no place in our democracy. Our Founders believed deeply in protections for the minority—and those are enshrined in the Constitution and the structure of Congress. But our founders made it clear that, after extended debate, the majority could always get a vote. And that final vote, except in the case of treaties and impeachment, would be by simple majority. 

The founders did not add a filibuster. With two exceptions, they insisted on plain old majority rule. 

When the Senate changed its rules decades later, the filibuster became the favored tool of racists and segregationists. The filibuster preserved Jim Crow laws and stalled civil-rights legislation for decades. The filibuster helped block the passage of anti-lynching legislation for over 100 years. The filibuster nearly stopped Congress from passing the most important voting-rights law in our nation’s history, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Today’s filibuster doesn’t foster bipartisanship and compromise. In fact, the exact opposite is true: the filibuster has been weaponized to intensify partisan division. The filibuster is a wicked tool used to kill legislation supported by majorities of Americans of all political parties - and that’s true for protecting the right to vote and gun safety legislation and immigration reform and codifying Roe v. Wade. The filibuster thwarts the will of the American people.

Today’s filibuster doesn’t encourage debate. It promotes cowardice. Senators can torpedo bills without saying a single word in public or even stepping on the floor of the Senate. This is not how a “deliberative body” should operate. Senators should be required to talk and vote instead of hiding behind a rule. They should have to put skin in the game. If Republicans are fine with the wave of anti-voter laws being enacted in state after state, they should make that clear on the floor. If Republicans oppose reinstating the Voting Rights Act that passed in this chamber unanimously in 2006, their constituents and the historical record should know exactly where they stand.

Instead, because of how today’s filibuster works, we have two sets of rules in our country—one for Democrats, who want to promote civil rights and liberties, and another set for Republicans, who want to take them away.

Republicans who want to close polling places, limit voting, and pass gerrymandered maps are hard at work doing that with simple majorities in state legislatures across the country. They face no filibusters to stop them. It’s majority rule. And here in Washington, when Republicans want to pass massive tax cuts for billionaires and rig our tax code to favor big businesses, an exception to the filibuster lets them do that with a simple majority. Republicans who want to pack the Supreme Court with extremist Justices who roll back fundamental rights and disregard the rule of law can do so with a simple majority right here in the Senate.

But a majority of Democratic Senators—again, Democrats who together represent over 40 million more Americans than the Republican Senators—cannot pass legislation to improve the lives of Americans. Democrats want to expand affordable child care to every family in America. Democrats want to raise the minimum wage. Democrats want to lower the cost of prescription drugs and health care. Democrats want to un-rig the tax code and make billionaires pay their fair share. And Democrats want to protect the right to vote. But we often cannot achieve these goals because the filibuster gives the minority party an almost total veto over legislation, including legislation to save American democracy.  

We can’t ignore Republicans’ attempts to rig free and fair elections in this country. We can’t roll over when Republicans want to make it harder for Black Americans to vote. We can’t look the other way when Republicans try to make it harder for Latinos and Asian Americans to vote. We can’t be silent when Republicans make voting harder on tribal lands. We can’t shrink back when Republicans work to keep students from voting. We can’t turn away when Republicans try to keep working class people or anyone who might be more inclined to vote for Democrats away from the polls.  

That’s not how democracy works. In a democracy, the most votes win—period. In a democracy, the Senate debates and then votes. And in a democracy, the people—not politicians—decide who will lead the nation. 

This week, the eyes of the nation and the entire world are on the United States Senate. We can choose to protect a tool of Jim Crow and segregation that is found nowhere in the Constitution. Or we can choose to defend the sacred right to vote. I urge the Senate to protect our democracy and the right of every American citizen to vote and to have their votes counted.

Senator Warren also read selected excerpts from the following stories into the record: 

How America lost its commitment to the right to vote, Vox, Ian Millhiser

All but one voting location might close in rural Georgia county, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mark Niesse

Why Do Nonwhite Georgia Voters Have To Wait In Line For Hours? Too Few Polling Places, NPR, Stephen Fowler

Black woman in rural Texas struggles with process to vote, advocates say system is unfair, ABC News, Alex Presha and Briana Stewart

It’s Time to Stop Gerrymandering Latinos out of Political Power, Brennan Center, Gabriella Limón

Asian American voter rates in Georgia hit record high. How voting bill threatens progress., NBC News, Kimmy Yam

Montana is ground zero for Native American voter suppression — and the fight against it, MIC, Vanessa Taylor

Crystal Mason Was Sentenced to Five Years Behind Bars Because She Voted, New York Times, Jesse Wegman