Harris Pledges to Do ‘Everything in Our Power’ on Voting Rights
(Bloomberg) -- Vice President Kamala Harris said the Biden administration will do “everything in our power” to preserve voting rights after she met with Texas state lawmakers who last month temporarily blocked legislation that would make it harder to cast ballots in the state.
“What we are seeing are examples of an attempt to interfere with that right,” Harris said Wednesday after the White House meeting. “An attempt to marginalize and take from people a right that has already been given. We are not asking for the bestowal of a right. We are talking about the preservation of a right.”
President Joe Biden asked Harris to lead the administration’s effort to combat Republican-backed bills in statehouses around the country that tighten voting access. The administration is backing federal legislation on voting rights and also speaking out against state-level measures.
Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Texas legislature and GOP Governor Greg Abbott say the measure would ensure election integrity. Democrats called the measure an attempt at suppression that makes it more difficult to vote by mail, limits voting hours and adds barriers to voter registration.
The Texas lawmakers staged a walkout to stall the bill that would make it stricter to vote. Republicans are still pressing for passage.
Harris is seeking to build a coalition of elected officials and outside groups to advocate for expanded voting rights legislation, senior administration officials said Wednesday.
Republican state legislature have either passed or sought to pass new restrictions on voting in response to former president Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread fraud -- primarily in cities with large minority populations -- cost him the November election. Fourteen states have passed legislation making it harder to vote through May, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Biden owes his presidency, in large part, to Black voters who turned out for him in both the Democratic primaries and the general election. Harris is both the first woman and first Black vice president.
Harris faces a diffcult task in securing passage of congressional voting-rights legislation in the evenly divided Senate. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition to one of two voting-rights bills the administration has backed, adding that he also would never support changing Senate filibuster rules so that Democrats can pass the legislation with just 51 votes instead of 60.
Both Biden and Harris still support both measures, the officials said. Harris will work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to push for the bills. Harris will also continue to speak publicly to urge legislative passage, they said.
On Monday, Harris was in Greenville, South Carolina, to participate in a listening sessions with voting rights advocates, her first on-the-ground meeting on the issue. She’s scheduled to travel to Atlanta on Friday as part of a tour to promote Covid-19 vaccinations. Her trip to the key battleground state will also involve voting rights, an official said.
The Biden administration has been trying to address voting rights through the executive branch. Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland said that he’d double Justice Department staff working on voting rights within 30 days and provide new guidance on early voting, mail-in voting and post-election audits, saying the measures are needed to safeguard Americans’ basic rights.
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