House Republican leaders are slamming the brakes on voting rights legislation, insisting that any movement on the issue go through a key Republican committee chairman who opposes the proposal. House Democrats are pressing hard on GOP leaders to bring the new voter protections directly to the floor. That would sidestep consideration in the House Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has rejected a bipartisan proposal to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of that law. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders say the bill must go through Judiciary. “Speaker Boehner has said that he believes that the Voting Rights Act has been an effective tool in protecting a right that is fundamental to our democracy. That’s why we reauthorized the law for 25 years in 2006,” a Boehner spokesperson said Friday in an email. “He also believes that if members want to change the law, those discussions will have to begin at the Judiciary Committee.”
That position effectively kills the legislation, as Goodlatte, after staging a hearing on the issue in 2013, has maintained that a congressional response is unnecessary because the Court left intact other parts of the VRA ensuring voters are protected –– a message his office reiterated on Friday. “The Voting Rights Act is alive and well and protecting the freedom to vote,” a Judiciary aide said in an email. House Democrats believed that Republicans were open to moving the legislation directly to the floor.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said he spoke with Boehner last week, and that Boehner had made Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) “the point man” on the issue. “He [Boehner] didn’t mention Judiciary to me,” Clyburn said Tuesday. “When I spoke to him, he mentioned Kevin McCarthy being the point person on this and, quite frankly, I’m assuming [he] is the person we would be dealing with.”
On Thursday, Clyburn amplified those remarks, saying he expects the discussion to proceed through McCarthy, though he hasn’t talked to the majority leader recently. “He is still the point man, but I have not discussed it with him,” Clyburn said. “The Speaker led me to believe that he [McCarthy] would reach out to me when he wanted to talk.” But McCarthy’s office on Friday disputed those claims, suggesting the only pathway supported by GOP leaders is through the Judiciary panel.
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