Duckworth Urges Senators to Vote for Critical Election Protection & Voting Rights Bill
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — On the Senate floor this evening, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) urged her colleagues to pass critical legislation that would protect the right to vote and restore integrity in our elections. Duckworth’s floor speech comes as Republicans across the nation work to enact restrictive voter suppression laws aimed at silencing people of color and voters with disabilities. In her remarks, Duckworth asked her colleagues to consider John Lewis and countless other patriots who led the struggle for voting rights in our nation’s history and stressed the importance of honoring their sacrifices by supporting their efforts to safeguard every American’s right to vote. Video of the Senator’s speech is available here.
- “My buddies and I and Senator Cotton didn’t sign up to defend our democracy in warzones thousands of miles away only to watch it crumble at the hands of powerful people more focused on their own self-interest than in the foundational component of this extraordinary experiment we call America: that everyone, regardless of social status, wealth, skin color or sex, has a right to vote.”
- “I’m not asking anyone to do anything nearly as difficult as putting on a uniform and going to war or crossing a bridge and being met with billy clubs. I’m not asking anybody to do anything that difficult today. I’m not asking my Republican colleagues to risk their lives on a bus or on a bridge, in the heat of the American South or under the scorching sun of a desert in the Middle East. All I’m asking for is the bare minimum… To not let being partisan keep you from being a patriot.”
- “Not only can our Chamber do more, we have done more, including the 16 Republicans who are still in the Senate today who have previously voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. And we owe more to those heroes who fought these fights before us… those trailblazers who marched those bridges as those in power broke their bones.”
Duckworth’s full remarks as delivered are below:
Mr. President, I can’t think of a more important thing to be debating here in these chambers than the right to vote.
But we can’t even get to that. We can’t even get to that because this filibuster prevents us from having a discussion on the Voting Rights Act.
In America, the path toward justice has always, always been intertwined with the right to vote. Progress and enfranchisement have always been braided together.
Billy clubs. Whips. Barbed-wire-wrapped tubing.
That’s what awaited John Lewis at the end of the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Because it’s never been easy. It’s never been easy to fight for enfranchisement or to fight for that right to vote.
There has always been a price to pay by those focused on justice.
Shouted slurs and explosions of tear gas. Pained screams and the crack of clubs against bone.
Those were the sounds that filled the air as Lewis and hundreds of his fellow Americans tried to march forward… as they tried to bring their country forward… one step at a time.
Most of us in this room know what those mothers and fathers of the civil rights movement did for us that day… they raised their voices on that bridge so their fellow Americans could raise their voices at the ballot box.
And, tragically, we also know that many in this chamber today appear unwilling to do their part to protect the rights those heroes fought for.
More than a half-century ago, in this very building, Senators from both sides of the aisle came together to pass the Voting Rights Act:
A bill designed to protect Black Americans—to protect all Americans—from the kind of racial discrimination that was so common in state-run elections at the at the time.
Of course, it’s not possible to list out all the changes since that moment:
More and more civil rights advocates stood up and sat-in…
More and more Americans marched through then laid down in the streets…
And the moral arc of the universe that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of bent a little more toward justice with every hard-earned right they secured… every fight they won.
But sadly… damningly… one other change stands out to me as I speak here today.
More than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, we can no longer say that a bipartisan majority of the Senate is willing to protect the most basic tenet of our democracy—heck, we don’t even have all of the Senators in the room to discuss this. Every American’s right to make their voice heard is so critically important to our democracy.
We can’t say this because Senate Republicans have spent the past year blocking every Democratic attempt to even begin debate on strengthening voting legislation. Even as Republicans in states around the country pass more and more restrictive voter suppression laws aimed at silencing the voice of the people, we still struggle and beg to have this debate and they will not vote to allow us to do so.
Republicans in Georgia made it illegal to peremptorily mail out absentee ballots to registered voters… a law that hurts all groups that rely on voting by mail, from communities of color to Americans living with disabilities.
It also hurts military voters currently serving in harms’ way overseas.
I myself voted by mail when I was serving our country in Iraq.
After all, I was a little busy flying combat missions, so I don’t know if I would’ve had the chance to request an absentee ballot if my unit hadn’t assisted in that effort.
Not every unit may do that—and so not having their ballots mailed to them would make it immeasurably harder for our troops to vote wherever they may be serving.
I can’t understand why they’d want to make it harder for brave Americans defending our democracy abroad to participate in it, but that’s what they’re doing.
And I can’t understand how my Republican colleagues can sit here today and ask paid staffers and pages to bring them water at exactly the temperature they like—with or without ice, sparkling or not sparkling—as they make their voices heard on the Senate floor and then say nothing—nothing—to stop a law that makes it illegal to give water to Americans waiting hours in line at polling stations as they seek to simply have their voices heard at the ballot box.
Listen, my five-time great grandfathers—who were likely indentured servants without the right to vote—didn’t fight in the Revolutionary War and earn that right to vote just so people claiming to be the leaders of our generation could chip away at the fundamental idea that founded this nation: that everyone is equal.
And my buddies and I and Senator Cotton didn’t sign up to defend our democracy in warzones thousands of miles away only to watch it crumble at the hands of powerful people more focused on their own self-interest than in the foundational component of this extraordinary experiment we call America: that everyone, regardless of social status, wealth, skin color or sex, has a right to vote.
Page after page in our nation’s history is marred by bigotry… tainted by intolerance… by injustice.
But through every chapter, however dark the night, some brave Americans have willed that there would be light.
That march forward has always been to expand access to the polls, not to decrease it. Expand access for those who didn’t own land, for Black Americans after the Civil War, for women—for all Americans.
In World War II, Black Americans fought overseas for the same country that forced their families to sit at segregated lunch counters back home.
Then, they came home and were forced to guess how many jellybeans were in a jar before they themselves could vote in a country they had fought for.
Asian-Americans fought to end slavery in the Civil War, sacrificed to preserve this Union and then had their earned citizenship stripped away.
Decades later, their grandsons fought in Europe even as their loved ones were interned in camps on American soil.
And we march forward and we march on and we expand the right to the ballot box.
In the ’60s, White Americans hopped on buses and risked their lives Freedom Riding through the South so those with darker skin could walk into the ballot box without fear of billy clubs.
And Americans of all backgrounds have packed their rucks, laced up their boots and gone to war in places like Iraq… lost their lives in places like Afghanistan… to defend the most American belief: that we all have a voice, and we all have the right to use it—including at the polls.
Because voting to elect ones’ own government is the core of that right.
I’m not asking anyone to do anything nearly as difficult as putting on a uniform and going to war or crossing a bridge and being met with billy clubs. I’m not asking anybody to do anything that difficult today.
I’m not asking my Republican colleagues to risk their lives on a bus or on a bridge, in the heat of the American South or under the scorching sun of a desert in the Middle East.
All I’m asking for is the bare minimum. All I’m begging them to do is merely to not sit in silence in the face of a grave injustice. To not let being partisan keep you from being a patriot.
For the sake of all who’ve sacrificed for our nation, I, at least, refuse to remain silent.
That’s why I’m voting for these bills.
That’s why I’m trying to claw back some of the protections that Republicans have spent the last year trying to erode on the back of the Big Lie, including:
Expanded voter purges; increased barriers for voters with disabilities; and harsher voter ID requirements.
That’s why I’m asking my colleagues who claim to represent the party of Lincoln… as a junior Senator from the land of Lincoln, I ask you to act in a way that will further the cause of justice.
That’s why I’m working to restore the Voting Rights Act… to expand early voting and vote-by-mail… to limit special interest money in politics… and to actually try to protect underserved communities and our servicemembers’ right to vote.
Because not only can our country do better, but we have done better, back when we passed the Voting Rights Act all those decades ago.
Not only can our Chamber do more, we have done more, including the 16 Republicans who are still in the Senate today who have previously voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.
And we owe more to those heroes who fought these fights before us… those trailblazers who marched those bridges as those in power broke their bones.
Whose skulls were cracked… whose blood was shed… yet whose will never bent… whose determination never wavered…
Those heroes who never let what was hard deter them from doing what was right.
We owe it to each of them, and to those whose rights are at risk today, to pass these bills. Thank you.
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