- Sen. Raphael Warnock said that voting rights has to be a priority in the Senate.
- Warnock said that Senate Democrats must engage with the GOP on the issue.
- "I think that we have to pass voting rights no matter what," he said.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia on Sunday said that the passage of voting rights has to be prioritized, especially as Republicans seek to implement new election restrictions across the country.
During an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Warnock said that while passing an infrastructure bill is vital, the effort to protect voting rights has be a legislative priority.
"We have got to work on the infrastructure of our country, our roads and our bridges, and we have got to work on the infrastructure of our democracy," Warnock said. "After all, the only reason we're able to get anything done, have the prospects of getting more done this Congress, is because people were able to show up and express their voices in their democracy."
In January, Warnock won a special Senate runoff election against appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler to fill the expired term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson, who stepped down from office in December 2019. Warnock will have to run again in November 2022 for a full Senate term.
In the runoff election for the state's other Senate seat, Democrat Jon Ossoff defeated GOP Sen. David Perdue for a full six-year term.
The dual victories gave Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, and with Vice President Kamala Harris's tiebreaking vote, the party regained control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2015.
President Joe Biden's $1.9 billion COVID-19 relief package was approved by the Senate in a 50-49 vote earlier this month, a testament to the power of the Democratic victories.
The president signed the bill into law shortly after its final passage in both chambers of Congress.
"We wouldn't have passed the American Rescue Plan had the people of Georgia not stood up in the way that they did, historic turnout," Warnock said. "As a result of that, we were able to pass a historic piece of legislation, shots in people's arms, checks in their pockets ... and so we got to do both of those things."
Earlier this month, House Democrats passed H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, which would set national standards for election administration, allowing for same-day voter registration and early voting, among other reforms.
The legislation faces massive roadblocks in the Senate, with most Republicans voicing opposition to the legislation, including GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
The Republican resistance has prompted legions of calls by progressive and some moderate Democrats to do away with the filibuster, which creates a 60-vote threshold to cut off debate for legislation.
Warnock said that Democrats need to engage with Republicans because "if we don't do anything else in the Senate, we have to stand up for the democracy."
He added: "The filibuster, at the end of the day, is about minority rights in the Senate. How are you going to insist on protecting minority rights in the Senate, while refusing to protect minority rights in the society?"
Warnock addressed the impact that his home state of Georgia has had on the national debate over voting rights.
Last Thursday, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a Republican-backed voting bill that would tighten election rules in the state; it includes limiting drop boxes, blocking the usage of mobile voting vans, and even banning water and food from being distributed to voters waiting in line.
"I think that we have to pass voting rights no matter what," Warnock said. "This is an assault on the covenant that we have with one another as an American people. And it's my job to protect it."