On March 7, 1965, civil-rights activists marched in Selma, Alabama, in support of voting rights. They were viciously attacked by local law enforcement, and the outrage over the violence helped create the conditions necessary to pass the Voting Rights Act.
Yesterday on Capitol Hill, the marchers received the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was beaten badly at the march, and Frederick Reese, a longtime civil-rights activist from Selma, accepted the award on behalf of the marchers.
But one element of the award ceremony didn’t quite sit right.
Even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) participated in the ceremony, they have refused to bring up legislation restoring a key section of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the five Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though I did not attend the event, reporting indicates that “applause was light” for the congressional Republican leaders.
And there’s a good reason for that. While their presence at the award ceremony was welcome, if Ryan and McConnell believe symbolism trumps substance on voting rights, they’re mistaken.
The Nation’s Ari Berman reported yesterday on the larger dynamic.
There are two pieces of legislation with bipartisan support in Congress to fix the VRA, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 and the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, but the congressional GOP leadership refuses to advance them. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who’s presiding over the Gold Medal ceremony, said he personally supports fixing the VRA but won’t push House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte to hold hearings on the issue. […]“Gold medals are great – I think it’s long overdue and much deserved that the foot soldiers are going to finally get their place in history,” Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Selma told me, “but the biggest tribute that we can give to those foot soldiers is fully restoring the Voting Rights Act.”
Except, in a Republican-led Congress, this has been deemed impossible.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) apparently wants credit for saying nice things about the Voting Rights Act, and helping honor those who shed blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, but in order to earn actual credit on the issue, the GOP leader will have to do some meaningful, consequential work – which he says he’s unwilling to do.