Biden Amps Up Voting-Rights Push, to Meet With Senate Democrats
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden is trying to ramp up pressure on Senate Democrats to change to the chamber’s filibuster rules and pave the way for passage of voting-rights legislation with phone calls to lawmakers and a trip to the Capitol to meet with Senators on Thursday.
A White House statement said Biden is focusing on “the urgent need” to pass the voting-rights bills in the face of persistent attacks on the integrity of U.S. elections through false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 presidential result was fraudulent.
In the meeting with Senate Democrats, the president will underscore that they need to change the chamber’s rules to accomplish that goal, the statement said.
But Senate Democrats have been struggling to agree on changing the filibuster -- which gives the minority party the power to block most legislation -- to help them move ahead with legislation overhauling voting rights in the face of unified Republican opposition in the 50-50 Senate. Biden’s Capitol visit comes two days after he traveled to Georgia to rally support for the legislation and amid growing backlash from party allies who say he’s not doing enough.
Biden is seeking to pressure reluctant Senate Democrats -- including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema -- to change Senate filibuster rules so that the voting rights legislation could clear the chamber on a simple majority vote. It takes 60 votes to end a filibuster -- essentially endless debate -- and move forward on most legislation.
“The threat to our democracy is so grave, we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote,” Biden said Tuesday in Atlanta. “Let the majority prevail.”
Republicans have accused Democrats of hypocrisy because they have in the past defended the filibuster. They have threatened to retaliate if Democrats succeed in changing the rules and accused Biden of exacerbating political tensions in the country. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell called Biden’s speech in Georgia “deliberately divisive.”
“Twelve months ago the president said that politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything it its path,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “But yesterday he poured a giant can of gasoline on the fire.”
He called the speech an “advertisement for the legislative filibuster.”
Biden stopped by McConnell’s office when he was at the Capitol Wednesday to pay tribute to the late Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader who lay in state at the Rotunda. McConnell, however, wasn’t there.
“I like Mitch McConnell,” Biden told reporters. “He’s a friend.”
Manchin this week reiterated that he opposes both getting rid of the filibuster entirely and changing Senate rules via a simple majority vote, the so-called nuclear option. He said any changes to the chamber’s rules should be made with support from at least two-thirds of the Senate, a position that likely dooms the rules-change effort.
Manchin met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats early Wednesday, but he and Schumer indicated afterward that they hadn’t come to any agreement or resolution and that talks are ongoing.
Schumer has vowed to have a Senate floor showdown on the voting rights measures by Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He said he’ll try to bring up a broad Democrat-drafted voting rights reform bill and a narrower bill called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that restores the Justice Department’s ability to require some states to get pre-clearance for changes to their voting laws. If they fail to get enough GOP support to advance to the floor, as expected, Schumer said he’ll force a debate on Senate filibuster rules to put all senators on record on the matter.
Republican-dominated legislatures in many states have tightened access to the ballot after Trump’s false allegations that Biden’s election was fraudulent.
At least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting voter access to ballots between Jan. 1 and Dec. 7 of 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. More than 440 bills with provisions limiting voter access were introduced in 49 states during the 2021 legislative sessions, the center says.
Senate Republicans say Democrats are exaggerating the impact of the new state laws on voters, and say Democrats are seeking election law changes that give them advantages in future elections.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.