Biden Faces Fresh Voting-Rights Pressure With Texas Showdown
(Bloomberg) -- Democratic lawmakers in Texas left the state to prevent Republicans from passing new voting restrictions, raising pressure on President Joe Biden to push through federal ballot expansions his allies complain are stalled in Congress.
In Detroit on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris applauded the move by Texas Democrats, who planned to fly to Washington to prevent a quorum in a special session of the state Legislature, thereby blocking any votes on the measures. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, accused the lawmakers of abandoning their constituents.
Harris said the Democrats had shown “extraordinary courage and commitment. They are leaders who are marching in the path that so many others before did when they fought and many who died for our right to vote.”
She visited Michigan both to discuss Republican-led efforts to curb ballot access with local leaders and encourage coronavirus vaccinations. On Tuesday, Biden is scheduled to deliver a speech on voting rights in Philadelphia.
“I do believe that fighting for the right to vote is as American as apple pie,” Harris said.
But the situation in Texas illustrated the losing battle Democrats are so far fighting nationwide. In the name of election security, Republican lawmakers have passed dozens of new voting restrictions this year, adding hurdles to mail-in voting, reducing local control over elections and targeting innovations used by large urban counties during the coronavirus pandemic. The efforts are inspired by President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread fraud led to his 2020 defeat.
Democrats have had little response. Two pieces of national legislation that would maintain ballot access are stalled in Congress and judges as high as the Supreme Court have upheld GOP efforts in states.
“We are living on borrowed time in Texas,” several leaders of the Texas state House’s Democratic caucus said in a statement that called for Democrats in Washington to act.
Abbott called on the Democrats to “put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do,” and the state House speaker, Dade Phelan, said that the body “will use every available resource under the Texas Constitution and the unanimously passed House Rules to secure a quorum.”
Democratic activists and civil rights groups say the Biden administration has all but left the issue in the hands of local organizers, and they’ve begun to openly fret that Biden himself is not aggressively pushing Senate Democrats to pass legislation that would override the state laws.
Republicans are unified against the two bills that have passed the House but are blocked in the Senate, and getting past their opposition would almost inevitably require weakening the Senate’s filibuster rules. All 50 Senate Democrats would have to agree to such a change.
Biden has asked Harris to lead his administration’s response to the efforts, and she said in a speech at Howard University in Washington on Thursday that the Republican campaign “is all designed, I believe, to make it harder for you to vote so that you don’t vote.”
Harris also announced that the Democratic National Committee would spend $25 million on voter registration, turnout and protection efforts.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden’s speech on Tuesday would address the moral obligation to preserve the right to vote.
“And I would say that to those who are critics, we stand with you in wanting to make voting more accessible around the country,” Psaki said.
She listed executive actions Biden has taken to address voting rights, including increased funding for the Justice Department to combat voter suppression.
Voting-rights activists have urged the White House to pressure moderate Senate Democrats to change the rules so that they don’t need 10 Republican votes required for most legislation. But some Democratic leaders say they can win even if Republicans pass laws they allege are intended to suppress turnout.
DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said in an interview last week that Democrats’ recent successes in Republican-led Georgia show they can still win without having to get GOP support in the Senate.
“Use Georgia as your example. Did they get rid of the filibuster in Georgia? Did they win lawsuits in Georgia? What did they do in Georgia to win the presidency in Georgia and to buck history to win two Democratic Senate seats in a runoff?” Harrison said. “Well, we did all of that in the face of voter suppression efforts.”
In recent months, Harris has met with voting rights advocates in Greenville, South Carolina, and Atlanta. At the White House, she also hosted Democratic Texas legislators in an earlier attempt of theirs to block legislation restricting ballot access. Harris discussed voting rights with labor leaders in Pittsburgh and she participated in a virtual meeting with civil rights leaders.
In her speech at Howard, a historically Black university and her alma mater, Harris urged people to mobilize and vote in the 2022 midterm elections.
“So with these new laws that have been passed or they’re trying to pass we have to start now to finish strong,” Harris said.
Courts dealt Democrats some recent blows. Last week, a federal judge denied an injunction on Georgia’s new voting law that allows state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, shortens the absentee voting window and makes it illegal to approach voters in line to give them food and water.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona did not violate the Voting Rights Act with its ban on “ballot harvesting” and its practice of rejecting ballots cast in the wrong precinct. The decision builds on a 2013 ruling that wiped out part of the landmark 1965 law.
Civil rights leaders who met with Biden and Harris at the White House last week told reporters that their supporters would demonstrate this summer to heighten the pressure on Washington to pass voting rights legislation.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.