Washington, DC — Barely a month after a bipartisan and bicameral press conference on the steps of the United States Congress to announce plans to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, that vital legislation now appears stalled in both the House and Senate. Urging the Senate to keep its commitment to such an important safeguard of Americans’ civil rights, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
The text of Senator Reid’s remarks, as prepared, is below.
Mr. President, as you know, through these doors to my left is a beautiful room. We call it the President’s Room, or the Red Room. We call it the President’s Room because for many, many decades this was the place where the Presidents came to sign legislation. During the past century, the 20th Century, it wasn’t used often at all. Rarely was it used for a President to come and sign legislation, but on August 6, 1965 it was used.
The last time the Red Room–the President’s Room–was used for signing a bill into law was on that date in the hot summer of 1965. It had been a very hot summer. The reason President Lyndon Johnson came to the Capitol to sign a bill here rather than the White House was because he was signing the Voting Rights Act.
For the reason I say it was a very hot summer–it had been a hot couple of years–I would direct everyone’s attention to a wonderful book written by Taylor Branch. It’s a relatively new book published recently called “At Canaan’s Edge”. This book tells many stories, but one is how the Voting Rights Act became law. People sacrificed their lives to allow this movement to move forward and ultimately to have this legislation passed.
Mr. President, if we look back historically, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress. It brought America forward 100 years after the Civil War and gave African Americans the right to vote.
Previously, counties in the South that were virtually all African American had no voters. The Voting Rights Act changed that. Lives were lost, and many, many people were injured–seriously injured–in an attempt to secure the basic right of voting in America.
Why do I bring this to the Senate’s attention today?
In early May, I joined Senator Frist, the House leaders, the chairmen and ranking members of the Judiciary Committees in both bodies and civil rights leaders to announce our support for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.
We stood together that day on the steps of the Capitol to announce the bipartisan, bicameral introduction of that bill.
The moment held great promise for the Congress and for the nation.
It showed that leaders of both parties recognized that protecting the right to vote is not a partisan issue – it is an American issue and one we would join together to support without qualification.
While finding common ground seems increasingly beyond our reach on many of the debates here, our joint support for the Voting Rights Act stood as a sign that we could still readily join together to protect the rights upon which this nation was founded.
In the weeks that followed, some progress was made in moving the bill forward in the House and the Senate.
An exhaustive record was built in both Chambers demonstrating without question the continued need for Voting Rights Act protections.
But of late, that progress has stalled.
Last week, House leaders failed to follow through on their commitment to move reauthorization through that body. It is now not clear when the House will act. We certainly urge them to do so as quickly as possible.
That is the commitment they made in May and the American people will hold them to it.
But here in the Senate, we need not wait for the House.
I understand that the Senate Judiciary Committee will complete a markup of this important legislation in July. The original timetable for that consideration was May.
I also understand that the Majority Leader, has committed to move this legislation on the floor in July. That schedule should not be permitted to slip further.
I agree with the Majority Leader that Voting Rights Act reauthorization must be our priority in this next work period if we are to live up to the commitment we made upon introduction of this bill.
I stand ready to work with him to accomplish its swift enactment.
And we won’t stand alone on the Senate floor our pursuit of that goal. Over 40 Senators–Republicans and Democrats–have signed on as cosponsors of this legislation.
Together, we can fulfill the commitment we made together in May to support the voting rights of all Americans without equivocation by calling this bill up in July and moving forward with its swift passage.