House Democrats introduce a bill to beef up the Voting Rights Act.
Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a long-awaited linchpin of their drive to protect voting rights, introducing legislation that would make it easier for the federal government to block state election rules found to be discriminatory to nonwhite voters.
House leaders expect to pass the bill, named the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act after the late civil rights icon, during a rare August session next week. They say it would restore the full force of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after a pair of adverse Supreme Court rulings and that it would help combat a wave of restrictive new election laws in Republican-led states.
“Today, old battles have become new again as we face the most pernicious assault on the right to vote in generations,” said Representative Terri Sewell, the bill’s chief author and a Democrat from Alabama’s civil rights belt, where Mr. Lewis and others staged a national campaign for voting rights in the 1960s. “It’s clear: federal oversight is urgently needed.”
But like other voting rights legislation to come before Congress this year, its chances of passing the evenly divided Senate are exceedingly narrow. Only one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is likely to support the legislation, leaving Democrats far short of the 60 votes they would need to break a Republican filibuster and send the bill to President Biden’s desk.
Senate Republicans already blocked Democrats’ other marquee voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would establish national mandates for early and mail-in voting and end gerrymandering of congressional districts. And while Democratic leaders in the Senate have vowed more votes on the matter in September, unless all 50 Democrats unite in a long-shot bid to change Senate filibuster rules, they are headed for an identical outcome.
The legislation introduced by Ms. Sewell on Tuesday is an effort to restore key pieces of the landmark 1965 voting bill struck down or weakened by the Supreme Court over the last decade. Doing so, its proponents say, would make it far harder for states to restrict voting access in the future.
The most consequential ruling dates to 2013, when the justices effectively invalidated a section of the law that required states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting rules to clear any changes to their elections policies with the federal government. At the time, the justices said that the formula used to determine which states were subject to clearance was out of date and invited Congress to update it.
The bill also attempts to respond to a decision just last month in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee that effectively made it more difficult to challenge state voting laws as discriminatory in court using a different provision of the law.
Voting rights activists fear the two decisions will make it far easier for those in power to marginalize voters of color at the ballot box and during the once-in-a-decade redistricting process underway this year. Just this year, more than a dozen Republican-led states have enacted restrictive new voting laws.
“We have seen an upsurge in changes to voting laws that make it more difficult for minority citizens to vote and that is even before we confront a round of decennial redistricting where jurisdictions may draw new maps that have the purpose or effect of diluting or retrogressing minority voting strength,” Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, told a House panel on Monday.
Republicans joined Democrats in large numbers to reauthorize the full Voting Rights Act as recently as 2006. But since the high court’s 2013 decision, they have shown little interest in updating the statute, arguing that discrimination is largely a thing of the past and that the federal government ought to stay out of states’ rights to set their own election rules.
Asked about the bill on Tuesday, Russell Dye, a spokesman for Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, accused Democrats of ignoring “real problems” like the crisis of Afghanistan, the influx of migrants at the southern border and rising crime “in favor of pushing a radical far-left political agenda.”
House Democratic leaders told members of their caucus on Tuesday that they plan to press ahead with a vote advancing a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint next week, disregarding warnings from moderate Democrats who said they will oppose that legislation without first voting on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The House is set to return to Washington in the middle of a scheduled August recess in part to advance the budget, after the Senate passed both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget plan earlier this month.
The budget resolution would allow Democrats to craft a subsequent economic package with funding for health care, child care and education provisions and tax increases on wealthy corporations and people, without fear of a Republican filibuster. But in a statement on Sunday, nine moderate Democrats remained adamant that “we simply can’t afford any delays,” saying they first wanted a vote on the bipartisan deal.
But liberal lawmakers have repeatedly emphasized that their support for the $1 trillion bipartisan deal is contingent on passage of the final social policy package, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has publicly said she will wait to take up the bipartisan bill until the far more expansive package clears the Senate. That package is not expected to be finalized until the fall, provided the House approves the budget blueprint.
Should all nine moderates — a group that includes Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Jared Golden of Maine and Henry Cuellar of Texas — vote against the budget blueprint, it will fail, given that all Republicans are expected to oppose the package. Despite just a three-vote margin, Ms. Pelosi has shown little willingness to change her plans, telling her top deputies privately on Monday that “this is no time for amateur hour,” according to a person familiar with the comments, which were first reported by Politico.
“For the first time America’s children have leverage — I will not surrender that leverage,” she added. “There is no way we can pass those bills unless we do so in the order that we originally planned.”
In a private call on Tuesday, she again insisted that “we must build consensus,” according to a person on the call who disclosed the comments on condition of anonymity. She has instead proposed a procedural move that could allow the House to advance both the budget blueprint and the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Monday with one vote.
“I know that we have some arguments about who goes first, and the fact of the matter is that we will be doing all of the above,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, told Democrats, according to a person on the call, who disclosed the comments on condition of anonymity. “Remember the psychology of consensus.”
The administration threw its support behind the procedural maneuver, with Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman issuing a statement that in part expressed “hope that every Democratic member supports this effort to advance these important legislative actions.”
In a letter to Democrats, Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who has publicly vented about his frustration with the Senate legislation, framed a vote in support of the budget document as a chance to preserve the House’s say in what could be the largest expansion of social programs since the Great Society of the 1960s.
“The Senate has had unilateral control over the infrastructure bill — if we want House priorities to be considered, we cannot let the same thing happen in reconciliation,” Mr. DeFazio wrote. “But giving the House a voice requires all members of the House Democratic Caucus to work together and take the first step — enacting a budget resolution.”
Almost no one was happy in Washington on Monday as the Taliban routed the American-backed government in Afghanistan and pictures emerged of desperate and frightened people at the Kabul airport struggling to flee the country. Footage of people clinging to a hulking U.S. military transport, even as it left the ground, quickly circulated around the world.
Moderate Democrats were furious at the Biden administration for what they see as terrible planning for the evacuation of Americans and their allies from Afghanistan. Liberal Democrats who have long sought to end military engagements around the world grumbled that the images out of Kabul are damaging their cause.
And Republicans who months ago cheered for former President Donald J. Trump’s even faster timetable to end U.S. military involvement in the nation’s longest war have shoved their previous encouragements aside to accuse President Biden of humiliating the nation.
Mr. Biden vowed again to rescue thousands of Afghans who had helped Americans during the two-decade conflict, but the fate of many who remained in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan was uncertain Monday. And thousands of Afghans with dual American citizenship remained unaccounted for amid reports of revenge attacks by the Taliban as they seized control.
As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s political career teetered, his brother, the TV host Chris Cuomo, kept silent, declining to address the matter on his CNN show and then leaving for what he described as a planned vacation.
On Monday, Chris Cuomo returned to prime time and spoke publicly for the first time about his brother’s stunning resignation — and the ethical headaches it created for him and his network.
“It was a unique situation, being a brother to a politician in a scandal and being part of the media,” Mr. Cuomo said in brief remarks toward the end of his 9 p.m. show. “I tried to do the right thing, and I just want you all to know that.”
He also said he had advised his brother to step down as New York’s governor. “While it was something I never imagined ever having to do,” he told viewers, “I did urge my brother to resign, when the time came.”
For CNN, the conundrum of the Cuomo brothers was painful on several levels.
Chris Cuomo apologized in May after it emerged that he had offered advice to Andrew Cuomo’s aides as the governor faced sexual harassment accusations. The host pledged not to discuss his brother’s travails, but CNN kept him on the air, roiling some colleagues who considered his role a glaring conflict of interest.
It did not help that CNN had openly encouraged the brothers’ on-air rapport at the start of the pandemic, when viewers tuned in to see Chris Cuomo interview Andrew Cuomo about his response to the pandemic.
On his Monday show, Chris Cuomo said the situation involving the governor’s scandal was “unlike anything I could have imagined.”
“I’m not an adviser; I’m a brother,” he told viewers. “I wasn’t in control of anything. I was there to listen and to offer my take. And my advice to my brother was simple and consistent: own what you did, tell people what you’ll do to be better, be contrite, and, finally, accept that it doesn’t matter what you intended. What matters is how your actions and words were perceived.”
Chris Cuomo has also faced scrutiny over his involvement in the efforts by Andrew Cuomo’s aides to stave off the growing scandal. On Monday, the CNN host said: “I never attacked nor encouraged anyone to attack any woman who came forward. I never made calls to the press about my brother’s situation. I never influenced or attempted to control CNN’s coverage of my family.”
He said he had no plans to comment further. “This will be my final word on it,” the host said, before cutting to a commercial. “Let’s take a break. We’ll be right back.”
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday,though he has no symptoms, the governor’s office announced.
An ardent opponent of mask and vaccine mandates, Mr. Abbott has taken his opposition to such requirements all the way to the state Supreme Court. He will now be isolated in the Governor’s Mansion while receiving medical treatment.
“The Governor has been testing daily, and today was the first positive test result,” the statement said. “Governor Abbott is in constant communication with his staff, agency heads, and government.”
Vaccinations in Texas lag behind those of many other states, and coronavirus deaths are rising, though far more slowly than in prior waves, given that a majority of the state’s oldest and most vulnerable residents are now vaccinated. The state has averaged more than 14,700 new daily cases as of Monday, an increase of 53 percent from two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database.
Mr. Abbott has faced withering criticism as coronavirus cases have increased sharply in Texas and available intensive-care beds have dwindled in Austin and other cities. But he maintained his ban on mask mandates, which prohibits local officials from imposing restrictions in their communities.
Fear and frustration over the course of the pandemic in Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, come as schools are preparing to reopen, raising worries about further spread of the virus.
Last month, responding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing new guidance recommending that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear a mask indoors in high-risk areas, Mr. Abbott doubled down in the opposite direction. He issued an executive order that prohibited local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines, and reaffirmed previous decisions to prohibit local officials from mandating masks.
The governor also affirmed that schools could not enact mask mandates for students, a move that some public health experts warned could lead to another surge in cases.
Late on Friday, after Governor Abbott’s ban suffered at least three legal setbacks, the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, said he was taking the issue to the State Supreme Court. The setbacks were in areas with Democratic leaders, rampant coronavirus cases and rising hospitalizations.
The State Supreme Court then sided with the state on Sunday, granting a request for an emergency stay of the appellate court ruling that would have allowed schools to make face coverings mandatory.