That includes getting rid of the 60-vote threshold specifically for the purposes of passing two voting bills. The legislation would, among other things, end gerrymandering, ensure early and mail-in voting and reestablish protections for minorities’ access to the polls.
“Let the majority prevail, and if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this,” Biden said in his speech from Atlanta.
Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, has previously been reluctant to change those rules, but said that the body had been rendered “a shell of its former self.”
Biden tried to convey a sense of urgency to pass the legislation as a counter to Republican-led efforts to restrict voting at the state level. He tied those actions to President Donald Trump’s misinformation about the 2020 presidential election, leading to the siege at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In contrast to his speech last week on the anniversary of the Capitol attack, Biden invoked Trump’s name on Tuesday, and referred to the riot as a coup attempt.
A major theme of the speech was that the Senate needed to step up to preserve democracy, as Biden put pressure on its members, telling them that they were “going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote and where they stood after the vote.” He said that, after having numerous private conversations in recent months with senators, he was “tired of being quiet.”
“This is one of those defining moments in American history,” Biden said.
No Republicans are expected to support either bill, and Biden noted that 16 current Republicans voted in 2006 to extend the Voting Rights Act and, before that, even Strom Thurmond voted to renew it. Biden invoked the name of civil rights icons — as well as segregationists, in making the appeal for elected officials to be on the right side of history. “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?”
Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Senate would vote on the legislation — and any necessary rules changes — by Monday, which is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But it’s still unclear whether Democrats will have even the simple majority to change the rules to bring the voting rights bills to the floor, given the opposition to such a move from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and perhaps others in the party. A fear is that it will set a precedent that Republicans will exploit if they reclaim the majority, but there is also a counter argument that a Trump-driven GOP would end the filibuster, anyway, as a way to get their agenda passed.
The two bills that have been under consideration are:
The Freedom to Vote Act: The more sweeping of the two bills would establish early vote requirements and vote-by-mail standards; protect local election officials from removal for political reasons; ban gerrymandering; create automatic voter registration standards; increase campaign finance disclosure; and mandate post election audits. It also would make Election Day a national holiday and would limit polling place lines to no more than 30 minutes, among other changes.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: The legislation would require that states get clearance from the federal government to certain changes to their voting laws, essentially restoring a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A state would be subject to “pre-clearance” for 10 years if: there were 15 or more voting rights violations in the state during the previous 25 years; 10 or more violations occurred during the previous 25 years, with at least at one committed by the state itself; or three or more violations in previous 25 years and the state administers the elections. The bill also would set factors that courts must consider when hearing challenges to a state or locality’s voting practices.
Biden’s speech got a positive reception from the Atlanta crowd, but some civil rights leaders were more skeptical. Most glaring was the absence at the speech of Stacey Abrams, now running for governor in Georgia, who has made the issue of voting rights central to her activism. She reportedly missed the speech because of a scheduling issue.
Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said in a statement that while “President Biden delivered a stirring speech today, it’s time for this administration to match their words with actions, and for Congress to do their job. Voting rights should not simply be a priority — it must be THE priority.”
PREVIOUSLY: Joe Biden will announce his support for changing Senate rules as a way to move voting rights legislation forward, although he’s not backing a total elimination of the filibuster, according to multiple press reports.
In a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, Biden plans to characterize the consideration of the legislation as a “turning point in this nation.”
“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice?” Biden plans to say. “I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”
What Biden is endorsing is a “carve out” of the filibuster rule that requires a 60-vote threshold for getting legislation to the floor of the Senate, making the case that the change is required given the importance of the legislation to preserving democracy. Democrats have pushed for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act as essential reforms, in part because of restrictions that Republican-led states have placed on voting since the 2020 presidential election.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set this coming Monday, Martin Luther King Day, as a deadline for voting on a rules change.
Yet the latest push to pass the legislation faces big uncertainties. A modification of Senate rules would likely face unified Republican opposition, leaving Democrats to muster all 50 votes to make such a change. But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have expressed opposition to such changes without bipartisan support, making their support doubtful.
Nevertheless, Biden’s speech in Atlanta, where he will be joined by a number of elected officials, civil rights leaders and voting rights advocates, is expected to help the White House highlight the issue. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak at Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, following a meeting with members of the family of Martin Luther King Jr. and a visit to Ebenezer Baptist Church.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden will also address what happened on January 6th, 2021, following his speech on the one-year anniversary of the siege on the Capitol. She said that he will “describe this as one of the rare moments in a country’s history when time stops and the essential is immediately ripped away from the trivial, and that we have to ensure January 6th doesn’t mark the end of democracy but the beginning of a renaissance for our democracy where we stand up for the right to vote and have that vote counted fairly, not undermined by partisans afraid of who you voted for or try to reverse an outcome.”
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