Today’s the day for the VRA

Vince has been staying on top of the fight to renew the Voting Rights Act. A group of Republicans, including the three Texans listed in the banner atop Vince’s post, have held up the VRA’s renewal, which was supposed to have been a formality. It all comes to a head today.

Having quieted dissenting conservatives, House Republicans are trying again to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act in an election-year effort to win support from minority voters.

The bill’s progress through Congress is considered by Republican leaders as one way to stem the damage to the party’s “big-tent” image among minorities watching the contentious debate over whether to grant most of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship.

The renewal of the Voting Rights Act – the legislative centerpiece of the civil rights movement – is widely supported by House leaders in both parties. It had been expected to sail through the House last month, but a rebellion in a closed GOP caucus meeting forced supporters to cancel the vote.

Conservatives, mostly from the South, contended that the bill singled out their states for Justice Department scrutiny without giving them credit for strides on civil rights.

Hours of negotiations in recent days yielded an agreement, approved 8-3 on Wednesday by the Rules Committee, to allow votes on a few amendments proposing the changes pushed by the objectors.

The changes are not expected to be added to the legislation. But House leaders, intent on passing the bill over to the Senate this week, agreed to allow votes on the four amendments to move it along.

Civil rights advocates, however, see the amendments as the latest in a history of attempts to undercut growing political influence of racial minorities.

“I hope the House will see this for what it is and vote against these amendments,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a veteran of the civil rights movement.

They got some firepower late Wednesday from big business – namely Tyco, Comcast, Disney and CBS Corp.

“Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act reinforces the importance we as a nation attach to each vote cast by every adult American,” CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves wrote to congressional leaders. “I look forward to saluting you and your colleagues when this important task is successfully completed.”


The amendment with the most appeal, sponsored by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, would renew the law for a decade, rather than 25 years.

The LATimes has a nice Republicans-in-disarray story on this.

In an intensely competitive election year, this was supposed to be the issue virtually everyone in Congress could agree on: renewing civil rights-era laws protecting minorities’ access to the ballot box.

But on the cusp of a vote scheduled for Thursday that White House strategists and other top Republicans once hoped would symbolize a GOP eager to attract more blacks and Latinos, a group of increasingly vocal Capitol Hill conservatives is staging a revolt – arguing that certain provisions of the law are out of sync with party principles and are insulting to the South.

The result is another emotional standoff within a party already fractured over how to deal with illegal immigration.


On Tuesday, Republican leaders were waging a fierce, behind-the-scenes fight to persuade recalcitrant conservatives that backing the act would benefit the party.

But the conservatives weren’t buying the argument, pressing their belief that Congress should change sections that impose federal oversight of states with histories of institutional racism and those that require bilingual ballots.

A two-hour meeting among House leaders, GOP strategists and the law’s critics failed to resolve the disagreement, leading some to question whether the House would go ahead with its Thursday vote.

A postponement would be the second time within a month that the vote had been delayed – a move that would heighten the White House’s embarrassment and intensify its need for damage control within minority communities.

“I want this bill finished this week,” House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters after the meeting. “But to tell you everything is settled and everyone is happy would not be the truth.”


One House leadership aide, who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of the negotiations, said that top Republicans had “had a lot of engagement” with [Georgia Rep. Lynn] Westmoreland and others who launched the unexpected rebellion.

But sighing at the turn of events since the renewal first sailed through the House Judiciary Committee this year, the aide added: “The reason we brought this whole thing up is to show people we’re for extending the Voting Rights Act. Instead, we created our own problem.”

Sucks to be you, I guess.

Finally, over at DallasBlog, Vince has a nice guest post that explains why we still need the Voting Rights Act in 200 and beyond. Check it out, and if you’re represented by one of the three Texans who have been holding it up, give them a call and explain it to them.

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