Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called me to his grand office suite in the U.S. Capitol to talk voting rights. More specifically, he wanted to talk about what he wanted to do to protect it. On Thursday, the 54th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the senator will announce a three-pronged effort to accomplish such an august goal. Schumer said he wants to “undo the damage” of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder, institute automatic registration and grant statehood to the District of Columbia.
“Shelby was one of the worst court decisions ever rendered,” Schumer told me in a special episode of “Cape Up.” “I am so angry at Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts,” who wrote the majority opinion gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision required nine states and select counties in six states to seek federal permission to make any changes to their voting laws. “I thought that decision was one of the worst because he said we don’t need this anymore. Give me a break,” Schumer said. “There’s no more racism?! Wake up and smell the coffee, Chief Justice, in all due respect.”
“There are 50 million people in America not registered. Now, that’s a disgrace,” Schumer said to explain why he was focused on automatic registration. “It says whenever you touch any level of government, it’s not just federal, but if you touch Medicaid, if you touch the department of motor vehicles, you are automatically registered. And that will make it a lot easier to vote and a lot easier to encourage people to vote because you’ll be on the registration lists.”
The part of the conversation that took me completely by surprise was Schumer’s push for D.C. statehood. “It’s 800,000 people. Their little slogan is ‘No taxation without representation.’ They don’t have it. We need to change that,” Schumer said. “They should just be allowed to be a state and have the same representation as other American citizens." But won’t Republicans balk at granting statehood to the District because it votes overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party? Won’t there need to be a Republican-leaning 52nd state to balance things out? "Now, if someone comes up with a proposal to pair it with another place I’d look at it,” Schumer responded. “I don’t know if there are any places they can find these days.”
Earlier this year, when the House introduced its own sweeping voting rights effort (H.R. 1), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) derided it on Twitter as “the Democrat Politician Protection Act” that would be “a massive federal takeover of elections.” That’s what elicited that “shame on Mitch McConnell” from Schumer, who said that such thinking means the GOP is “a party that says they don’t believe in democracy. The less democracy the better.”
Listen to the podcast to hear Schumer give his thoughts on “the new Republican Party” and why their efforts at voter suppression are “un-American.” Hear his reaction when I push him on his assertion that he’s not doing all this for political reasons. More importantly, I asked Schumer how he was going to get all this through McConnell and a Republican-controlled Senate. “We are going to find opportunities, even though we’re in the minority,” Schumer said. “Where the Republican majority needs us, we’re going to push for these to get in there.”
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