Warnock says Senate should delay holiday recess to focus on passing voting bills

WASHINGTON — Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock renewed his push to pass voting rights legislation, first in a private lunch with Democratic colleagues Tuesday and later in a speech on the Senate floor.

Those remarks preceded Warnock’s vote in favor of lifting the debt ceiling, a decision he said he struggled with. It’s not that Warnock disagreed with the rules change that will allow Senate Democrats to raise the borrowing limit despite opposition from Republicans, he just wished the same energy for protecting the economy carried over to election legislation.

“We need to acknowledge that the ceiling of our democracy is crashing in on us; it needs to be raised and repaired,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And voting rights needs to be next in the queue. It is the very next thing we should take up. And we should not leave for recess until we at minimum have a clear path that we’ve all agreed on to get there.”

Senate Republicans have used the filibuster, a Senate rule that requires 60 votes for bills to move forward, to block progress on a bill that would make Election Day a holiday, limit voter registration purges, allow people to register to vote and cast a ballot the same day, and create national standards for redistricting, early voting, drop boxes and voting by mail.

Republicans also stood against a separate measure named after former Georgia Congressman John Lewis that would reinstate federal oversight of changes to state election laws. Georgia is among dozens of states that passed new rules limiting access to the ballot after Democrats made gains during the 2020 election.

Gov. Brian Kemp and the GOP elected officials who lead the Georgia General Assembly said its law passed after the election was needed to improve voters’ confidence in the integrity of the system.

The move came only a few months after Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Presidential Donald Trump in the general election. That led Trump and his followers to make unfounded claims that the election was rigged, which in turn led the GOP base to demand changes.

The state’s eight Republican members of the U.S. House have all opposed the congressional voting measures, saying there is no need for the federal government to dictate to states how to run elections. They say Democrats only want new federal oversight to help them win future races.

The voting bills are popular among Democratic activists, and lack of progress has often translated to frustration with Democrats in Washington who hold the majority in both chambers and the White House.

Warnock said when he arrived in the Senate he was told repeatedly that the chamber’s arcane rules and traditions were virtually impossible to change. To see the rules then be relaxed relatively easily to accommodate the debt ceiling issue created a “moral contradiction,” the Atlanta Democrat said.

The federal debt ceiling has to be raised so the government can continue to borrow money to pay its bills. If the borrowing limit is reached, business groups and economists say it could trigger an international financial crisis.

Warnock said he wants a commitment to getting the voting bills passed, although he stopped short of suggesting exactly how the rules should or could be changed to get it done.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who worked on compromise language for the voting rights legislation but has said he is against relaxing filibuster rules to get it passed, said Warnock’s speech during the luncheon Tuesday was “very moving” and that the senator did a good job making his case.

Still, Manchin said he isn’t aware of any timetable to get the laws passed. And he also told reporters that any change to Senate rules should be based on a bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Warnock’s remarks led to a “spirited discussions” on voting rights, and that those talks will continue.

Sen. Jon Ossoff said he shares his Georgia counterpart’s opinion that time is of the essence to pass new federal voting laws.

“The urgency of action is a legislative urgency,” Ossoff said. “And Senator Reverend Warnock and I both continue to urge our colleagues to recognize the urgency and to recognize that this moment demands that legislative action now.”