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'They don't want to be publicly named'

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)Associated Press

It's been nearly two months since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, giving Congress the task of creating new standards. Skeptics, including me, argued that the decision effectively dooms the VRA -- there's just no way to expect this Congress to address such a contentious issue, especially when Republicans see voter-suppression as a pathway to victory.

But one notable House Republican remains optimistic, despite the evidence.

Although many congressional Republicans so far have been noncommittal about rewriting an invalidated section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said Wednesday that "a lot" of them want to do so.

Sensenbrenner is the most prominent among a small number of GOP lawmakers who have urged a congressional rewrite of the statute after the Supreme Court partially struck it down in June. But that doesn't mean other Republicans are not willing to join him in his effort, he told CQ Roll Call in an interview.

"There are a lot of Republicans who are [on board], but they don't want to be publicly named," said Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a former Judiciary Committee chairman and architect of the 2006 compromise to reauthorize the voting law.

Look, I'm willing to be persuaded on this. If there's reason to believe lawmakers can work something out and revive the Voting Rights Act, I'd be delighted. I want my predictions from June to be wrong.

But if House Republican proponents of improving the law "don't want to be publicly named," I'm hard pressed to imagine why anyone would be optimistic about the VRA's prospects. In recent years, I can think of plenty of instances in which lawmakers were personally on board with a bill, but were afraid to take a public stand -- and in every instance, they balked when it came time to cast a vote.

What's the difference between an opponent of the Voting Rights Act and a supporter of the Voting Rights Act who's afraid to endorse the law publicly? As a practical matter, there really isn't much of a difference at all.

President Obama's commitment to the VRA is pretty obvious, but this isn't his call. Rather, it's up to Congress -- and in Congress, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said of the law this week, "Ain't gonna happen." Notice, the right-wing Texan wasn't afraid to "be publicly named."

Voting-rights activists should probably be keeping an eye on Attorney General Eric Holder's efforts, not Congress'.