The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Schumer’s post-Charlottesville pitch: Kill the president’s voting commission

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks on Capitol Hill. (Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency)

Saying that Americans had “entered a new world” after a racist march on Charlottesville turned deadly this month, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is calling for President Trump to disband the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and for Republicans to expand voting rights.

“We need more than just words — we also need action,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in an opinion piece first published at Medium. “And I believe that one important way that Congress can begin to heal this painful divide in our country when we return in September is by showing that we can come together to stop the systemic disenfranchisement of American voters.”

Schumer’s most concrete proposal is to end the voting commission, created after the president speculated, without evidence, that millions of illegal votes were cast in 2016, costing him a victory in the popular vote. Democrats, who have been fighting efforts to increase voter ID requirements and trying to stop purges of state voter rolls, worry that the commission will be used to justify more restrictions on voting ahead of the 2018 elections.

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“The president’s recent failure to unequivocally condemn bigotry makes its rescission imperative,” Schumer said of the voting panel. “… If the president does not act, the Congress should prohibit its operation through one of the must-pass legislative vehicles in September.”

Schumer’s gambit calls out the growing number of Republicans — still a minority — who have criticized the president in the wake of Charlottesville. Every one of the 48 senators who caucus with the Democrats could be expected to support an amendment killing funding for the voting commission, which has been mired in controversy since Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has lost a series of court cases after trying to restrict access to the ballot, became its vice chair. Republicans like Sens. Lindsey O. Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona have attacked the president’s Charlottesville response, but been quiet about the voting panel.

On Aug. 1, a federal judge declined to block the president's voter fraud commission from collecting voter data. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post, Photo: Elise Amendola/The Washington Post)

Schumer’s letter is just one of several proposals designed to determine how much the Republican Party remains supportive of Trump. In the wake of Charlottesville, several House Democrats from safe blue districts called to impeach the president. Schumer’s letter, focused on a specific policy goal, may be seen as less of a pipe dream.

That doesn’t mean it has a chance. While no Republicans immediately responded to Schumer’s proposal, one conservative member of the commission, Hans von Spakovsky, was skeptical of the idea.

“What does Charlottesville have to do with the Election Integrity Commission? Absolutely nothing,” he said in an email. “Violence by anyone, regardless of their political views or what side of the political spectrum they are on, is unacceptable behavior. Ensuring public confidence in a fair and secure election process is one of the best ways to short-circuit the arguments of those who push violence in the political arena.”