Biden to Endorse Changing Filibuster to Pass Voting Rights Laws

WASHINGTON — President Biden endorsed changing Senate rules to pass new voting rights legislation during a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, warning of a grave threat to American democracy if lawmakers did not act to “protect the heart and soul” of the country.

Mr. Biden did not go so far as to call for full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to block legislation that fails to garner 60 votes, but said he supported “getting rid of” it in the case of voting rights legislation. Such a change in Senate procedures has only the slimmest of chances of winning the support of all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats, which is needed to overcome universal Republican opposition.

Mr. Biden, a former senator and an institutionalist who had long been leery of whittling away at the filibuster, said such Senate traditions had been “abused.”

“Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” Mr. Biden said.

During an at-times emotional speech delivered at a consortium of four historically Black colleges and universities, Mr. Biden laid out the principles he wanted to be associated with — providing access to the ballot, fostering racial equality, and keeping “the promise of America alive” — and made it clear that, win or lose, he wanted to be on the right side of history.

“I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?” Mr. Biden said.

“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” he asked, drawing a sharp line between men who fought for civil rights and others who fought to deny them, comparisons that at moments drew gasps from the crowd.

Equating opponents of Senate rule changes to slaveholders and segregationists is a political gamble for Mr. Biden, whose visit to Georgia was designed to invigorate a Democratic-led effort to pass new voting rights laws in the 50-50 Senate in the coming days.

One bill introduced by Democrats, the Freedom to Vote Act, would, among other provisions, block efforts to restrict mail-in or absentee voting, make Election Day a holiday, and stop state legislators from redrawing districts in a way that activists say denies representation to minority voters. Another, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would restore anti-discrimination components of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped away by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The reality remains: Even with Mr. Biden’s new call for a filibuster exception, changing Senate rules would require the support of the entire Democratic caucus and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie and pass the legislation.

Mr. Biden traveled to Georgia with a major piece of his agenda, a large social spending plan, stalled. Pivoting to voting rights gives him a new issue to focus on, but he also risks failing to deliver on his promises.

But for the second time in two weeks, Mr. Biden went on the attack against former President Donald J. Trump, reminding Democrats of the stakes with the midterm elections ahead.

“The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them,” Mr. Biden said. “Simple as that.”

Mr. Biden’s advisers have promised that he will continue to forcefully support two voting rights bills aimed at beating back a swath of restrictive voting measures passed through Republican-led statehouses around the country.

Back in Washington, multiple proposals to find ways to appease Mr. Manchin, Ms. Sinema, and other possible holdouts are circulating, including restoring the “talking” filibuster by requiring lawmakers to take the floor, Mr. Smith-style; reducing the number of votes needed to break a filibuster; and limiting its use altogether in some circumstances.

But finding bipartisan comity this time will be all but impossible for Mr. Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate and views himself as a consensus builder. Republicans have argued that the bills would impede the rights of states to conduct their own election, and that Democrats are using the voting rights legislation to try to gain partisan advantage.

Activists say those critics ignore glaring examples of voter suppression. Voting rights groups in Georgia have already filed a federal lawsuit that accuses legislators of redrawing a congressional district to benefit Republican candidates and deny representation to Black voters.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, promised a scorched-earth response should Democrats try to change the rule: “Since Senator Schumer is hellbent on trying to break the Senate, Republicans will show how this reckless action would have immediate consequences,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement on Monday.

During a private meeting with the president, the Kings said in an interview, they did most of the talking.

“We felt that the president cited his pedigree of deal making as a senator” while speaking about the importance of voting rights, Mrs. King said. “We know that he has the power and influence to do the same today as president. I have to say we’ll be watching closely.”

In his speech, Mr. Biden said he wants to “let the majority prevail.”

“And if that bare minimum is blocked,” he said, “we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden was on his way into the Ebenezer Baptist Church when he was asked what he would say to activists who are concerned that his embrace of changing Senate rules may be too little and too late.

“Keep the faith,” the president replied, before ducking into the church.

Nick Corasaniti in New York, Carl Hulse in Washington and Zolan Kanno-Youngs in Atlanta contributed reporting.

Source link Most Shared

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.