President Obama on Saturday used the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights march here to urge Republicans to move new voting rights protections. He probably shouldn’t hold his breath. GOP leaders have opposed new legislation updating the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that gutted central provisions of the 1965 law. And the Republicans on hand in Selma this weekend showed no indication that the silver anniversary festivities had changed their minds. “They knocked out part of the Voting Rights Act … but the federal government still has the power to prosecute and investigate anyone who violates of the [law],” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Saturday just before the president’s speech. “So as we go forward, maybe there are some other things that need to be done, but I think fundamentally the Supreme Court was correct.”
Rep. Kevin Yoder (Kan.), another Republican participating in the Selma pilgrimage, said he’s also not racing to throw his support behind any VRA updates. “We’re just taking this moment to reflect on our history,” he said. “I think we’ll certainly get to those issues as we go forward.”
The remarks are a sharp contrast to those coming from Democrats, who are pushing for immediate passage of a new VRA bill they say is vital to preventing discrimination at the polls.
“We remember the struggle that took place right here 50 years ago and the tremendous victory that was won for voting rights, [but] we also understand that today, there are people in this country, in this area, who are trying to undo what was accomplished 50 years ago,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Saturday. “It is beyond comprehension that in 2015, there are officials who want to make it harder for people to vote.”