Biden under pressure to act as landmark voting rights bill faces Senate defeat | US politics

Joe Biden was facing a huge setback on Tuesday as one of his top priorities, a set of reforms to protect voting rights and shore up Amer...


Joe Biden was facing a huge setback on Tuesday as one of his top priorities, a set of reforms to protect voting rights and shore up American democracy, barrelled towards defeat in Congress.

Progressives accused Biden of failing to use his bully pulpit to champion the sweeping legislation, which aims to safeguard elections against attacks by former president Donald Trump and his allies.

“OK I have reached my WTF moment with Biden on this,” tweeted Ezra Levin, co-executive director of the grassroots movement Indivisible. “Is saving democracy a priority for this administration or not?”

The Senate was due to hold a procedural vote on whether to start debate on the For the People Act, a significant near-900-page overhaul of voting and election law that the White House has described as a “cause” for Biden.

But in chamber split 50-50, the bill was poised to fall at the first hurdle. Sixty votes are required to overcome a procedural rule known as the filibuster and there was no prospect of 10 Republicans crossing the floor to join Democrats in advancing the legislation.

The For the People Act is seen as a crucial counterweight to hundreds of voting bills introduced by Republican-controlled states, many of which include measures that would make it harder for Black people, young people and poor people to vote. Fourteen states had enacted 22 of these laws by mid-May, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Biden has spoken passionately about the need to defend democracy but despite his penchant for bipartisanship he has been unable to move the needle. Levin, a former congressional aide, drew a contrast with Barack Obama, who organised a debate with Republicans about his signature healthcare law, and Bill Clinton, who gave 18 speeches to promote a North American free trade agreement.

He added: “Democracy is under threat. Fascism is rising. Time is running out. It’s time for the president to get off the sidelines and into the game, or we’re all going to lose.”

Obama has also sounded the alarm. Speaking on a call with grassroots supporters, he said: “We can’t wait until the next election because if we have the same kinds of shenanigans that brought about [the insurrection on] 6 January, if we have that for a couple more election cycles, we’re going to have real problems in terms of our democracy long-term.”

Democrats’ goals include expanding early voting in elections for president and Congress, making it easier to vote by mail – a tool used by record numbers during the coronavirus pandemic – and improving the transparency of certain campaign contributions. They are also aiming to remove party bias from the once-a-decade drawing of congressional districts.

Democrats also accuse Republicans of seeking to reduce polling hours and locations and drop boxes, and tightening voter ID laws, as a direct response to Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen by voter fraud.

In remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, likened Trump to “a petulant child”.

“Because of one man’s lie, Republicans are now doing the dastardly act of taking away voting from millions of Americans … making it much harder for them to vote, and many, many, many will not,” Schumer said.

“From Georgia to Montana, from Florida to Iowa, Republican state legislatures are conducting the most coordinated voter suppression effort in 80 years.”

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat, has so far declined to say if he will support the procedural motion in support of the For the People Act.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat, has so far declined to say if he will support the procedural motion in support of the For the People Act. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

These state houses are making it easier to own a gun than to vote, Schumer said.

“Republican legislatures are making it harder to vote early, harder to vote by mail, harder to vote after work. They’re making it a crime to give food or water to voters waiting in long lines. They’re trying to make it harder for Black churchgoers to vote on Sunday.

“And they’re actually making it easier for unelected judges and partisan election boards to overturn the results of an election, opening the door for some demagogue, a Trumpian-type demagogue, maybe he himself, to try and subvert our elections in the very same way that Trump tried to do in 2020.”

Republicans argue the For the People Act would infringe on states’ rights and that state measures are needed to stop fraud, even though there is no evidence of widespread such problems. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, dismissed the bill as a “partisan power grab” in his own speech on the Senate floor.

Although the outcome of Tuesday’s vote was a foregone conclusion, there is still suspense around two subplots with wider implications.

The bill was co-sponsored by 49 Democratic and independent senators. The sole holdout was Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who has expressed opposition to the legislation and declined to say if he would support the procedural motion to debate it.

If, as expected, Manchin did fall into line, it would intensify pressure for Democrats to abolish the filibuster so legislation can be debated and passed by a simple 51-vote majority – with Vice-President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. But Manchin and some colleagues have deep reservations about doing so.

Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic senator from Arizona, wrote in the Washington Post: “The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings.”

She said she welcomed a full debate, “so senators and our constituents can hear and fully consider the concerns and consequences”.

Biden held talks with Manchin and Sinema at the White House on Monday, aware the congressional stalemate threatens to stall his agenda. Manchin told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday: “We had a very good conversation, very respectful … We’ve just got to keep working.”

Both sides are looking for political advantage ahead of next year’s midterm elections, where Republicans hope to win back the House and Senate.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden under pressure to act as landmark voting rights bill faces Senate defeat | US politics
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