After Years of Republican Rule, the House Takes on Voting Rights

Natalie Landreth, a senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, remembers testifying before Congress in support of a bill to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act back in 2006. At the time, the reauthorization legislation passed the Senate with a near unanimous approval from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“Support for VRA Reauthorization was wide and nonpartisan, Republicans by and large didn’t vote against it, it passed something like 96-0,” Landreth said in an interview. “Now Sen. Mitch McConnell is suggesting that the H.R. 1 and other voting bills won’t even make it to the Senate floor? The conversation around voting has degenerated so far in so little time.”

A hearing on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee revealed a deep divide between Republicans and Democrats — not to mention millions of voters — over H.R. 1, the sweeping voting rights and anti-corruption bill at the top of the Democratic agenda. After years of Republican rule in the House, the rise of dark-money campaign groups and Super-PACs, and fierce legal battles between GOP-controlled state legislatures and civil rights groups over access to the ballot box, the tension between Republicans and the new Democratic majority was on full display.

“The idea that we did not have problems in the 2018 election … is really an embarrassment, and I think people should be ashamed of themselves,” said Rep. Karen Bass, a Black Democrat from California, during an intense exchange with witnesses about the reality of voter suppression.

Now in the minority, conservative lawmakers and their witnesses spent much of the hearing defending an electoral system that has locked in Republican power in Congress and the majority of state legislatures since the Tea Party wave of 2010. They accused civil rights groups of “wildly exaggerating” instances of discrimination against voters of color and downplayed the corrupting impact of money in politics.

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