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Pelosi urges Senate Democrats to back voting rights bill and ‘save democracy’

Pelosi urges Senate Democrats to back voting rights bill and ‘save democracy’
Nancy Pelosi said on the call she was holding out hope that Senate Democrats could persuade Manchin to extend his support. Photograph: Lenin Nolly/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

Nancy Pelosi is urging congressional Democrats not to abandon their marquee voting-rights legislation in favor of a narrower bill, as the House speaker attempts to stave off opposition to the embattled measure from members of the party in the Senate.

Pelosi said on a caucus call on Thursday that Democrats needed to prioritize HR1 – the sweeping election reform bill known as the For the People Act – to save American democracy, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The legislation is teetering on the brink of collapse in the Senate after Joe Manchin, a key conservative Democrat, said he would not back the bill, nor vote to eliminate the filibuster rule that would ease its passage.

But Pelosi said on the call that she was holding out hope that Senate Democrats could persuade Manchin to support the measure and force the legislation through.

“I have not given up on Manchin,” Pelosi told her colleagues, according to the source.

The rare, personal move from Pelosi to influence events in the Senate reflects the deep alarm among Democratic leadership about the rapidly diminishing chances of the bill passing into law in the wake of Manchin’s announcement.

It also marks the second time in three days that Pelosi reiterated her position, after pressing the issue in a letter to her Democratic colleagues on Tuesday.

“We are at an urgent moment because of the Republican assault on our democracy,” Pelosi said in the letter, adding that the legislation “must become law in order to respect the sanctity of the vote, which is the basis of our democracy”.

In the national struggle for voting rights, Democrats have rested their hopes for rolling back dozens of new voter restrictions passed by Republican state legislatures to limit early and mail-in voting, and empower partisan poll watchers, on HR1.

The 818-page bill would expand ballot access and tighten controls on campaign spending. It would also end the president’s exemption from conflict-of-interest rules, which allowed Donald Trump to maintain businesses that profited off his presidency.

Manchin has said instead that he would support the passage of a narrower election reform bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore federal oversight over state-level election law struck down by the supreme court in 2013.

But Pelosi noted sharply in her letter that the John Lewis bill was “not a substitute” for HR1, and stressed it would not be ready until after the summer as it undergoes intensive vetting to prepare for expected legal challenges.

The John Lewis bill also faces further hurdles after the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, condemned the measure as Democratic power grab, all but ensuring it will be defeated by an expected Republican filibuster.

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has vowed to force a vote on House-passed HR1 towards the end of June, but with Manchin’s vow to oppose the measure, the prospects of its passage in the Senate now appear all but impossible.

Pelosi has remained undeterred. “HR1 must be passed now,” she said in the letter.


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