Warnock, in first floor speech, champions federal voting laws to blunt GA’s proposed restrictions

WASHINGTON — Georgia’s Raphael Warnock told his U.S. Senate colleagues Wednesday that the filibuster should not get in the way of passing a federal overhaul of elections, campaign finance and redistricting laws.

“I stand before you saying that this issue — access to voting and preempting politicians’ efforts to restrict voting — is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict the expansion of basic rights,” Warnock said during his first-ever floor speech. “It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in our society.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. House approved election legislation known as the For the People Act. It is unclear, however, whether there are enough Senate Republicans willing to support the measure to overcome a potential filibuster. Under current rules, at least 10 GOP senators would have to vote with Democrats to proceed to a final vote.

The timing of Warnock’s maiden speech coincides with the introduction in the Senate of that legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer assigned the measure as S. 1, saying he wanted to indicate its importance by giving it his first bill number.

Schumer said he also plans to lean on Warnock for help making the case for why this bill should become law.

“He knows what voter suppression is like in Georgia; he knows what they’re doing now,” Schumer said, referring to a number of voting restrictions now being considered in the state Legislature. “I think he’s going to be a very persuasive voice for Democrats and Republicans to pass S. 1.”

The maiden speech is traditionally used by freshman lawmakers as a platform to press upon their signature issues or frame their approach to elected office. Warnock, an Atlanta Democrat, went off script at the beginning of his remarks to reflect upon Tuesday night’s shooting spree in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.

“This unspeakable violence, visited largely upon the Asian community, is one that causes all of us to recommit ourselves to the way of peace, an active peace that prevents these kinds of tragedies from happening in the first place,” he said. “We pray for these families.”

Warnock went on to reflect upon the historic nature of his and counterpart Jon Ossoff’s victories in the Jan. 5 runoffs. Warnock is the state’s first Black U.S. senator, and Ossoff became Georgia’s first Jewish senator and the youngest senator ever elected from the state.

In addition to backing S. 1, Warnock spoke in favor of a second measure that would reinstate provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were invalidated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013. That bill was named after Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who died last year.

Warnock made several references to the efforts by Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly to restrict voting access. He said the GOP, after experiencing losses at the polls, chose to make it harder for certain people, especially those who are Black, to vote.

“Some politicians did not approve of the choice made by the majority of voters in a hard-fought election in which each side got the chance to make its case to the voters,” he said. “And, rather than adjusting their agenda and changing their message, they are busy trying to change the rules. We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights and voter access unlike anything we have seen since the Jim Crow era.”