Tuesday, 27 Jul 2021

Klobuchar Lays Out New Goals for Often Low-Key Rules Committee

The panel typically focuses on the Senate’s inner workings, but its chairwoman, Amy Klobuchar, is seeking to transform it into a major force on voting rights.

By Carl Hulse

WASHINGTON — The usually obscure Senate Rules Committee is the most insider of insider panels, typically responsible for doling out precious Capitol office space, keeping the Senate running and handling fights over arcane floor procedures.

But circumstances and the ambitions of the committee’s current chairwoman, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, have thrust the panel into the middle of things. In just six months, she has spearheaded a push for a sweeping voting rights bill sought by Democrats while her committee has investigated failings in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. The panel was also in charge of staging President Biden’s inauguration, only two weeks after the deadly riot.

“For so long people have been focused, understandably, on the inner workings of the Senate with the Rules Committee,” said Ms. Klobuchar, who answered with an emphatic “yes” when asked if she was trying to turn the panel into a force. “But the point is we have a bigger jurisdiction, and that’s our democracy.”

In line with that focus, the panel will convene its first field hearing in 20 years in Atlanta on Monday as it seeks to put a spotlight on the new voting restrictions being imposed by Republican state legislatures there and elsewhere, hoping to build a case for the seemingly fatally stalled voting rights measure. It is part of a rare move by the Rules Committee to try its hand at legislating — or at least agenda-setting — on a prominent policy issue.

“This is a concerted effort against our democracy,” Ms. Klobuchar said of the nationwide push by Republicans. “It is a perpetuation of this lie that somehow this election involved fraud and that Joe Biden wasn’t the rightful winner. To me, that’s what this is about.”

Republicans, who are not likely to have much of a presence at the hearing, are fiercely opposed to the legislation that Democrats say would protect voters, particularly people of color, from Republican efforts to make it more difficult to cast ballots. They shrugged off the Atlanta event as a Democratic show, even as they conceded that Ms. Klobuchar had every right to stage it.

“She is chair of the committee and that is a hot issue with Democrats,” said Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama and a former chairman of the Rules Committee.

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