POLITICS
06/26/2013 12:16 pm ET Updated Jun 26, 2013

John Boehner, Republicans Show No Signs Of Fixing Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court left the fate of a key part of the Voting Rights Act in the hands of Congress on Tuesday, but GOP leaders on up to the most powerful Republican in the nation, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), don't seem in much of a rush to take up that responsibility.

Nearly every Republican interviewed by The Huffington Post in the wake of the Supreme Court decision either had no answer about how they would respond, or said they hadn't read it yet. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he favored the ruling that invalidated Section 4 of the law, which set the standards for which jurisdictions had to get federal approval before changing voting rules.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told HuffPost he could not imagine Congress coming to terms on a new set of standards, although the Supreme Court expressly ruled that such standards would be constitutional as long as they are updated to reflect changes in the country since 1965.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he hadn't read the ruling. A day later showed no new momentum among the GOP leadership, as Boehner sounded a similar note.

"The Voting Rights Act has played an important role over the last 40 years," Boehner told reporters when asked if the polarized Congress was "up to the job" of dealing with the assignment the court had dropped in its lap.

"We are reviewing the decision, and trying to determine what the proper steps going forward are," Boeher said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was the only top Republican to float the idea of pursuing new legislation, although he did not suggest what that would be.

"My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all," Cantor said in a statement Tuesday evening, referring to a trip he and other lawmakers took to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Lewis and many others were beaten on "Bloody Sunday" in 1965. "I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."

The Republican diffidence was a stark contrast to the other side of the aisle in the House, where black leaders and others immediately called for a renewal of the standards. They pledged that they would force Congress to act.

"The fact that the Supreme Court did the wrong thing should inspire Congress to do the right thing," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), pointing to the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington as a potential watershed moment.

"Please understand this: This time it will not just be predominantly black," Cleaver said. "People who are for right are going to come here to Washington, because what was done [by the court] was wrong. And the people of this country, the good and decent people of this country, need to speak out."

UPDATE: 4:45 p.m. -- Two Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee have signed on to an effort to fix the VRA: Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who authored the last extension of the act, and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).

From a bipartisan statement by the members of the committee:

F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.): “The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process. Section 5 of the Act was a bipartisan effort to rectify past injustices and ensure minorities’ ability to participate in elections, but the threat of discrimination still exists. I am disappointed by the Court’s ruling, but my colleagues and I will work in a bipartisan fashion to update Section 4 to ensure Section 5 can be properly implemented to protect voting rights, especially for minorities. This is going to take time and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected."

Steve Chabot (R-Ohio): “I am disappointed that the Court invalidated the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula, which has been used for decades to help protect the voting rights of millions of Americans. However, by leaving Section 5’s pre-clearance requirements intact, the Court has given Congress the opportunity to amend the coverage formula to preserve these important protections. I am hopeful that we will work together to enact an appropriate fix in the same bipartisan manner and spirit that we did when reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006.”

Jen Bendery contributed reporting to this story.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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