Sen. Ted Cruz blocked Democrats' late-night efforts to take up voting and democracy reform bills before August recess

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, followed by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., leaves the chamber during the non-stop voting session on President Joe Biden's top domestic policy ambitions, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021.
Sen. Ted Cruz blocked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's efforts to bring up voting- and democracy-reform measures by unanimous consent. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
  • Republicans blocked an effort by Democrats to consider voting-rights legislation before recess.

  • Majority Leader Schumer tried to bring up measures after the chamber approved a budget resolution.

  • Senate Democrats are working to keep the issue of voting rights and election reform on the table.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Sen. Ted Cruz quickly blocked a late-night effort by Senate Democrats to pass voting-rights and democracy-reform legislation before lawmakers departed Washington, DC, for their August recess.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer attempted to bring up three measures via a unanimous consent motion, which failed, in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Schumer raised the motion after a marathon amendment session - known as a vote-a-rama - on the budget resolution that's set to serve as the basis for Democrats' planned $3.5 trillion budget package.

Schumer wanted to bring up S. 2093, a revised version of S.1, the For the People Act, a stand-alone bill cracking down on partisan gerrymandering in redistricting, and the DISCLOSE Act, which aims to curtail "dark money" in elections by requiring super PACs and 501(c)4 organizations to disclose donors who give above a certain amount in an election cycle.

Republicans criticize such measures as a federal overreach into elections.

"This bill would constitute a federal government takeover of elections," Cruz said of S.1 on the floor. "It would constitute massive power grab by Democrats, it would disenfranchise millions of Americans and it would do precisely the opposite of its nominal title For The People, it is instead for the politicians because it entrenches politicians and ensures that the people cannot vote them out of office."

After Cruz objected to the measures shortly after 4:30 a.m., the Senate voted 50-49 to approve a motion to discharge S.1 out of the Senate Rules Committee, meaning it was advanced out of committee and to the Senate floor. Schumer promised that voting rights "will be the first matter of legislative business" the upper chamber takes up when lawmakers return from recess on September 13.

Democrats are aiming to revive their efforts on voting rights and democracy reform after Republicans, in late June, filibustered the For the People Act, Democrats' wide-ranging, 800-plus-page package that would have made sweeping reforms to federal election, campaign-finance, and ethics laws.

A group of Democratic senators led by Schumer has spent the past few weeks working on a slimmed-down, voting-focused version of S.1 that's more palatable to moderates such as Sen. Joe Manchin, with senators hinting to reporters that a vote on one or more voting and election bills would be forthcoming before recess.

The last-minute effort to bring forth the bills for consideration was all but doomed to fail because of the lack of Republican support for any of the measures - much less to take them up under a unanimous consent motion, which even just one senator can block.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, a key figure on voting-rights efforts, speaking to reporters about Democrats' election-legislation push. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

But Democrats sought to keep voting rights and democracy reform on their legislative agenda ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, get their GOP colleagues on the record about the issue, and maintain pressure to reform the Senate filibuster rules to pass voting legislation.

Democratic legislators and voting-rights activists are urgently appealing to Congress to take action as GOP lawmakers in many Republican-controlled states push legislation that tightens voting rules and exacts more partisan influence over election administration, with some pursuing partisan ballot reviews and "audits" of long-ago certified and audited election results.

Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a leading senator in the voting-legislation talks, on Tuesday told reporters at the Capitol that lawmakers "would be derelict in our duty as the Congress if we did not respond to that by providing federal guidelines for voting rights."

"We have to protect the right of every eligible American to vote, and there's nothing more important for us to do. We're in the middle of a historic infrastructure bill that we hope to move forward. But it wouldn't even be possible if people didn't have access to the ballot," he said.

The senators also faced pressure to take some action on partisan gerrymandering ahead of a high-stakes redistricting cycle following the 2020 census that would shape the balance of power in Congress and state legislatures for a decade.

The Census Bureau is set to release a highly anticipated data set, known as PL 94-171, on Thursday. This is expected to give states the detailed, neighborhood-level redistricting data they need to redraw congressional and legislative boundaries.

"There's no question that there is a tight deadline for getting all this done," Warnock said. "Gerrymandering is a real and present danger to our electoral system and is one of the tools through which the voices of ordinary people are being squeezed out about democracy."

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