Several months after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers plans to introduce a legislative fix on Thursday afternoon. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made a passing reference to developments on the VRA front at a news conference earlier in the day. “I want to say that I’m pleased with what I see as bipartisan progress — and that’s a good thing — that’s being made on addressing the Voting Rights Act, and I think we’re going to be hearing an announcement on that later today,” Pelosi said. “I’m not here to announce it, but I’m here to say what’s occurred in briefings and meetings we’ve had. While it’s not the bill everyone will love, it is bipartisan, it is progress and it is worthy of support.” Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., confirmed Pelosi’s remarks while heading into the House chamber, adding that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., are the sponsors.
Conyers said he and Sensenbrenner have officially dropped their bill into the hopper, and that Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., had filed an identical bill. The three lawmakers are expected to hold a news conference later in the day on the Senate side of the Capitol, Conyers said.
“We’re hopeful that we can move in a good way,” Conyers said. “We need to have hearings immediately, as soon as we can. That’s the best sign of good faith and bipartisanship.”
The effort does not yet have full buy-in from Republican leadership, said a senior GOP aide. Leaders are wary of push back from conservative members and are skeptical that the bill could attract the support of a majority of the Republican Conference. They are also concerned that Democrats would politicize the issue to make gains in the 2014 midterm elections.
Furthermore, Sensenbrenner, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee and an author of the last extension of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, has occasionally voted against leaders’ priorities, most recently casting a “no” vote on the omnibus appropriations bill. That has damaged his clout with leaders, the aide said.
Conyers suggested the fate of the new VRA legislation is in the hands of the House Judiciary panel’s current chairman, Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va.
“I haven’t raised it directly with him yet so I can’t say” whether he would support the effort, Conyers conceded, “but the question may come down to whether we want to do it in parts. … I’m not sure how this is going to play out.”