Biden puts out a forceful call for the Senate to change its rules to pass voting rights legislation

Biden says: ‘I will not yield’



President Joe Biden in a Tuesday speech in Atlanta, Georgia, put out his most forceful call yet for federal action on voting rights and endorsed changes to the Senate’s rules to pass such legislation.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Atlanta at a crucial inflection point for congressional Democrats’ efforts to pass voting rights and democracy reform legislation while they still control both chambers of Congress.

“Voting is a threshold liberty,” Biden said. “Without it nothing is possible. With it, anything is possible.”

Biden specifically called on Congress to change the filibuster rules in order to pass The Freedom To Vote Act, a sweeping voting rights and democracy reform bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act struck down or weakened by the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans filibustered both bills in 2021.

Biden described the Senate as “a shell of its former self,” adding, “It gives me no satisfaction in saying that as an institutionalist.”

He added that the Senate filibuster has been “weaponized” and “abused” while state legislatures have been passing voting bills with simple majorities.

If voting rights bills continue to be filibustered, Biden said, “we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.”

“I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights,” Biden said. “When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate.”

Biden said every member of the Senate will need to “decide where they stand.”

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? 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. ” Biden said. “And so the question is, where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”

Georgia, a critical battleground state that helped send Biden to the White House and Raphael Warnock to the Senate, is a historical hub of the voting rights movement. In 2020, the state was at the center of former President Donald Trump’s brazen efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Biden and Harris also laid a wreath at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Warnock, one of the leading voting rights advocates in Congress, is a senior pastor.

Biden and Harris’ visit, however, was overshadowed by very public dissent and opposition from frustrated local voting rights activists, some of whom boycotted the speech altogether in protest over what they see as inaction on the White House’s part.

The state’s best-known voting rights advocate and likely 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams was also a no-show, citing a scheduling conflict.

Their address was further upstaged by the University of Georgia’s football team securing their first national championship win in 41 years over the University of Alabama on Monday night — the biggest news of the day, if not the month, in Georgia.

Biden, for his part, has ratcheted up his rhetoric raising the alarm about new legislation passed in Republican-controlled states that tighten voting access, impose new restrictions and penalties on election officials, and politicize the administration of elections. 

Biden has also directly accused Republicans — including in a national address delivered on the anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot — of launching a multifaceted attack on democracy

States enacted hundreds of bills affecting voting and elections in 2021. Republican lawmakers passed major legislation in key states, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, and Texas, that tighten voting access and increase partisan officials’ authority over the administration of elections.

In Georgia, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed such an omnibus bill in March 2021. The law, SB 202, expanded early voting in most counties but tightened access to absentee voting, reduced the window for voters to register and vote early before runoff elections, and put new restrictions on local election officials, including limiting the number of ballot drop boxes they can offer and prohibiting them from accepting private grant money.

Biden criticized the bill in his speech, arguing it would lead to “chaos and subversion.”

With Biden’s economic agenda indefinitely stalled in Congress, Senate Democrats have turned their focus to reforming the rules of the Senate in order to pass voting rights legislation. Under current Senate filibuster rules, 60 votes are required to break a filibuster to advance to debate on most legislation. Senate Republicans filibustered three major voting rights and democracy reform bills in 2021.

“I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for two months,” Biden said. “I’m tired of being quiet!”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is pledging to hold a vote on yet-to-be-determined Senate rules changes on or before Martin Luther King Day on January 17. Senate Democrats are discussing creating a carve out to allow voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority vote, returning to the talking filibuster, and requiring the minority party to actively maintain a filibuster on the Senate floor instead of putting the burden on the majority to break it.

Democrats can deploy the so-called nuclear option, which would allow them to unilaterally change Senate rules with a simple majority of 51 votes.

But two key swing Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, remain opposed to lowering the filibuster threshold, arguing that it would come back to harm Democrats when they are in the Senate minority. Manchin has also repeatedly said that he is uncomfortable with changing the Senate’s rules on a partisan basis. 

Republicans are also nearly unanimously opposed to Democrats’ voting rights bills and to possible changes to the filibuster rules

“Joe Biden and Democrats’ election takeover attempts are blatant power-grabs designed to rig the game. Democrats want to destroy the integrity of our elections by eliminating photo ID requirements, allowing non-citizens to vote, using taxpayer dollars to fund career politicians, and silencing voters,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a Tuesday statement.

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