In reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to take up an overhaul of the Voting Rights Act to respond to a key part of that landmark law being invalidated by the Supreme Court.
"The Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and the subsequent enactment of laws in states like North Carolina, Texas, and Mississippi, that attempt to make it harder for the poor and minorities to vote, indicate that we still have a long way to go to realize Dr. King's dream," the Nevada Democrat said in a statement. "The Senate will debate the Voting Rights Act. We will examine these dangerous voter suppression efforts, and propose steps the Senate can take to ensure the right of every American to cast a ballot."
Speaking to a Las Vegas radio station following President Barack Obama's remarks from the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, Reid noted that the effort could have a difficult road ahead, once again referring to what he views as persistent obstruction by some Senate Republicans.
"The Voting Rights Act was turned down — an important section of it — by the United States Supreme Court. The right thing to do would be to change it. We can't get things passed because of the tea party who are throwing up an objection to everything we do," Reid said on KCEP radio.
"Voting is a fundamental part of our American rights, and it's wrong, wrong all over America today Republican governors are getting rid of early voting, cutting down the time of early voting. In North Carolina, they just passed a law saying if you vote in the wrong precinct, tough. It used to be that ... it was a provisional ballot and if you could show you were registered properly, you could get that counted," Reid said. "We should be trying to figure out ways to get more people to vote like same-day registration and that kind of thing, rather than the terrible stuff that's going on."
"Who gets cut out when we stop early voting? It's not the people with money, with good jobs, it's people who are people of color and who do not have economic substance to get the pretty pictures they want to show people before you can vote."
Reid encouraged listeners to respond to incidents of racism, referencing a widely reported incident involving a rodeo clown wearing an Obama mask, as well as repeated comments by Donald Trump questioning the validity of Obama's birth certificate.
"If you have a situation where you can see racial overtones, speak up! It's unfair, and this doesn't apply only to African-Americans. Hispanics are being treated unfairly on a number of occasions, and so are Asian Americans," Reid said on the radio.
"President Obama is an African-American. Earlier this month, I said I hope the Republican opposition to President Obama is because of substance and not the fact that he's an African-American," Reid said. "Since my remarks, this is what we've seen: further examples of opposition to President Obama that have insidious overtones. Just a few weeks ago, at a Missouri state fair, a rodeo clown wore a mask of President Obama as the announcer asked 'who wants to see Obama get trampled?'"
Reid was working the afternoon shift as a Capitol Police officer on Aug. 28, 1963, which was how he helped pay his way through law school at George Washington University. He referenced that experience in his statement.
"Looking out from the Capitol, I watched the buses roll into Washington. And then I watched as a sea of men, women and children emerged from those buses and peaceably assembled to petition their government for redress of grave grievances," Reid said.
"I could not hear the speeches given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day. I could not feel the heat of the August sun on the National Mall. But I could see the tide of history turn as hundreds of thousands of my brothers, sisters and fellow Americans pushed forward toward freedom. The March was about what united Americans, not what made us different or divided us," Reid said. "The March, and Dr. King’s speech, reminded us of our shared humanity."
Oddly enough, both of the current top Senate leaders were at the Capitol complex on the August afternoon of the March on Washington. During a congressional ceremony last month, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recalled his own experience at the Capitol that day.
"For one sympathetic college student from the University of Louisville, I'll tell you: it’s something I’ll never forget. I couldn't hear much from the Capitol steps that day, but the crowd and the energy told its own story: that thousands of Americans were ready to meet the moment," McConnell said. "Not just to dream of a better future for themselves, but to fight for a better future for their children."