Progressive organizations across the United States on Tuesday welcomed President Joe Biden’s unequivocal remarks from Georgia in support of changing the U.S. Senate rules to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“President Biden was clear in his call for eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights, and we’re grateful… But he can’t rest this call at the feet of the Senate and walk away.”
Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden recalled his decades as a U.S. senator and said that “sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self. It gives me no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate.”
“But as an institutionalist, I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,” he continued. “Debate them, vote, let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.”
Battle Born Collective deputy director Tré Easton said in a statement after the speech that “President Biden’s powerful endorsement of reforming the filibuster for voting rights is a welcomed and necessary step in the fight to preserve and protect the right to vote in this country.”
“When the president announced his support for a return to the talking filibuster last March, we said we were looking forward to his continued leadership on the issue,” Easton added. “We are pleased to see Biden bring his critical voice to this conversation. We just hope that it is not too late.”
Sean Eldridge, president and founder of the group Stand Up America, said that “it’s clear now that the only thing standing in the way of protecting the freedom to vote is a dwindling number of senators clinging to a procedural rule used by Republicans to deprive Americans of their constitutional rights.”
“If President Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, can come around to reforming the filibuster, then every senator can,” he said. “With a vote on rules changes expected in the coming days, this is a legacy moment for every member of the Senate. The time has come to put our democracy and the freedom to vote ahead of the Jim Crow filibuster.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently vowed that if GOP obstruction of voting rights bills continues, he will change the chamber’s rules by January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. However, it’s not clear he has the necessary support from Democrats.
The most vocal opponents of abolishing the filibuster have been Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who reportedly told journalists mere hours before Biden’s speech that “we need some good rules changes to make the place work better. But getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it work better.”
However, both Manchin and Sinema recently joined the rest of the Senate Democratic Caucus in supporting a workaround to raise the debt ceiling—a move that Biden noted in his address and that renewed hope Democrats will advance the pair of voting rights bills blocked last year by Republicans.
“The filibuster has been reformed over 160 times,” Public Citizen executive vice president Lisa Gilbert pointed out Tuesday, “and it must be reformed yet again to ensure that the great experiment of American democracy lasts.”
“We must protect our freedom to vote, end dark money, stop partisan gerrymandering, and defeat those who seek to sabotage or overturn our elections,” she continued, referencing some of what the “transformative” bills will do.
“The faction that attempted to sabotage the last election is already putting in place the pieces to do it again,” she noted. “President Biden understands that, as does Sen. Schumer, and they are prioritizing action to thwart the attack.”
“The question remains whether Senators Manchin and Sinema will do the same,” Gilbert added. “If they can support a filibuster exception to raise the debt ceiling, they can support reforming the Senate to preserve our democracy.
Warning that “the legacy of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Congressman John Lewis is on the line,” AFSCME president Lee Saunders asserted that “it’s time for the Senate to answer President Biden’s call, stop hiding behind arcane rules, and finally protect the right of every American to make their voice heard at the ballot box.”
Both Saunders and Biden highlighted that last year alone, legislators in at least 19 states forced through over 30 voter suppression laws. The president argued that if Republican lawmakers can enact such measures with simple majority votes, then a chamber of Congress should not need a supermajority to protect democracy from such attacks.
“I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet,” Biden declared. “This is one of those defining moments in American history.
Civil rights leader and Drum Major Institute chairman Martin Luther King III said Tuesday that “today, in the hallowed birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, President Biden echoed our call for honoring my father’s legacy—there should be no celebration of the King holiday without voting rights legislation.”
“President Biden was clear in his call for eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights, and we’re grateful he has taken this bold step to support the change that we need,” King said. “But he can’t rest this call at the feet of the Senate and walk away—he must use the full power of his office to ensure this Jim Crow relic finally falls.”
“The president cited his pedigree of dealmaking to pass voting rights legislation as a senator—we know he has the power and influence to do the same today,” he added. “When we met with the president today, we reiterated that we expect strong action, not just words. We need to see a plan. We will be watching closely and mobilizing to ensure his speech is backed by the full power and influence of his office.”
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