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House Democrats: You Can’t Preserve The Filibuster And Protect Voting Rights

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is concerned about the lack of movement of any kind in the Senate on H.R. 1, the sweeping elections reform bill. They're preparing a more narrow strategy in hopes of getting quick action: sending the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to President Joe Biden's desk by September. They believe a bill named for their colleague and hero, the late John Lewis, has a better chance with a Senate that is deadlocked 50-50 and is being held hostage by Mitch McConnell, with the help of Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

The urgency is real. States are starting the process of congressional redistricting, and without a law which restores the key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court, there will be no curb on states drawing discriminatory districts. The Supreme Court struck down the VRA's pre-clearance formula in 2013, a requirement that certain states and localities with histories of racially discriminatory voting practices—including drawing of electoral maps—had to get pre-approval from the U.S. Department of Justice to make changes to the voting process.

"If you want to play into [Republican] hands, you do nothing at all and let them pass redistricting maps that absolutely don't have to be pre-cleared where they can do whatever the hell they please, and they can discriminate at will. Or, you step up your game and you do what needs to be done," said Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, of the effort to get this bill passed. "If you don't pass" this voting rights bill, he said, "you're basically giving them a green light to just go ahead and discriminate against Black and Hispanic voters."

"I certainly think our focus ought to be on [the Lewis bill] and voting rights," said Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, a member of the CBC. "You would think that that would provide a real good opportunity for a handful of Democratic senators who want to hold onto the filibuster [to say] 'Yes, we can do it on this John Lewis Voting Rights [Act].'"

You would think that, and this could be the bill that puts the necessary pressure on the filibuster holdouts in the Democratic conference in the Senate—for their own job security, if nothing else. As of March 24, 361 state bills to restrict voting have been introduced in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which has been keeping track. They are not slowing down, either. "That's 108 more than the 253 restrictive bills tallied as of February 19, 2021—a 43 percent increase in little more than a month. Forty-seven states is almost all of them, including the ones that have Democratic senators. Their majority in the Senate only exists because of Vice President Kamala Harris. It could be gone very easily in January 2023 if states have free rein on keeping Democratic voters out of voting booths.

The House Judiciary Committee is responding, with its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties holding a hearing Thursday to discuss the need to restore the VRA. "Congress cannot continue to let these challenges to the VRA go unanswered," Judiciary chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler said during the hearing. Nadler isn't a member of the subcommittee; he crashed the hearing, perhaps in order to emphasize how serious he is about moving this legislation forward. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro testified Thursday.

"In my home state of Texas today there is an all-out assault on the right to vote. For generations,
Texas has been a testing ground for devious ways to restrict access to the polls," Castro said. "Since the Shelby decision in 2013, the state has cut more polling locations than any state in the nation. Texas enacted a strict voter ID law that permits firearm licenses to be used to vote, but prohibits the use of student IDs. And lawmakers have used things like voter registration deadlines, restricted voting hours, and limitations on early voting to chip away at the franchise of millions of people."

He reminded the committee that "Congress knew in each of the four times they reauthorized the VRA that we must protect the rights of voters and reaffirm the American principle of anti-discrimination." Since 2013, however, Senate Republicans have prevented restoration of the VRA, looking ahead to this moment—the 2020 census and their chance to gerrymander Democrats out of power and suppress enough Democratic voters in perpetuity to have a permanent stranglehold on government. It's why they packed the courts with Trump judges.

Castro had a message for lawmakers in his testimony, directed particularly at those in the Senate who put their so-called principles about a bipartisan Senate over the "timeless truth" of our democratic system. "[T]his timeless truth: the right to vote shouldn't depend on the color of one's skin, how much money one has, or what state one lives in."

"It's a right guaranteed to every eligible American citizen. It's the cornerstone of our democracy. And it's what the late Representative John Lewis—for whom the new Voting Rights Act is named—described in his final letter as 'the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.'"

GOP Senators Underestimated Stacey Abrams — And Got An Earful

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

File this under asked and answered. Former Georgia House minority leader and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams trended much of the day on Wednesday after Republican Sen. John Kennedy questioned whether she thought a restrictive voting bill signed into law last month is racist. "I think there are provisions of it that are racist, yes," the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate answered. Abrams was speaking during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Tuesday when Kennedy made the mistake of asking her for a list of the provisions she objects to in the Georgia legislation.

The former state legislator, who is nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize for her work to register voters of color in Georgia was perfectly prepared to fulfill Kennedy's request.

"It shortens the federal run-off period from nine weeks to four weeks," Abrams said. "It restricts the time a voter can request and return an absentee ballot application.

"It requires that a voter have a photo identification or some other form of identification that they're willing to surrender in order to participate in the absentee ballot process. It eliminates ..." Apparently seeing that she wasn't the stumbling, ill-equipped naysayer he might've assumed she was, Kennedy cut Abrams off to ask her other questions. Then he cut her off again when she attempted to answer them. "What else? What else?" the Louisiana Republican demanded. Abrams ignored the slights and just kept listing.

"It eliminates over 300 hours of drop box availability," she said. Kennedy responded with a hurried, "Okay, what else?"

"It bans nearly all out-of-precinct votes," Abrams said, "meaning that if you get to a precinct and you are in line for four hours and you get to the end of the line and you are not there between 5 and 7 PM, you have to start all over again."

Kennedy interrupted: "Is that everything?"

"No it is not. No, sir," Abrams responded with a chuckle. "It restricts the hours of operation because it now, under the guise of setting a standardized timeline, it makes it optional for counties that may not want to see expanded access to the right to vote. They can now limit their hours. Instead of those hours being from 7 to 7, they're now from 9 to 5, which may have an effect on voters who can not vote during business hours during early voting. It limits the voting hours ..."

Kennedy interrupted yet again. "Okay, I get the idea. I get the idea," he said.

Georgia Democrats had been fighting elements of the bill spread among other proposed legislation in the state for months when Republicans decided in the final days of the legislative session to hijack a tangentially related piece of legislation. They turned a two-page bill to make sure eligible voters didn't repeatedly receive absentee ballot applications into nearly 100 pages of voter suppression tactics. "The GOP just won't stop when it comes to making it harder for Georgians to vote," the Democratic Party of Georgia said in an earlier statement.

Abrams told Republican Sen. John Cornyn at the same committee hearing that she thought Georgia lawmakers made "deliberate attempts to suppress the minority vote."

When asked if she thought the law in question was a "racist piece of legislation," she responded that she did indeed. "I think there are components of it that are indeed racist because they use racial animus as a means of targeting the behaviors of certain voters to eliminate their participant and limit their participation in elections," Abrams said.

Democrats Can Save Democracy Or Preserve The Filibuster — Not Both

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A lie repeated often enough doesn't become truth, it gets codified by Republican state legislatures. That's the case with the Big Lie, that voter fraud stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Whether or not they actually believe it, Republican lawmakers across the country are acting on it, introducing more than 250 bills in 43 states making it harder for people to vote. That's despite the fact that the most litigated presidential election in history exposed no fraud at all. Trump's legal team couldn't prove it in court after court.

As of now, just three states—Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah—have enacted new voter suppression laws, but the wave of new state laws is likely just cresting. There's a remedy: federal action. It can only be applied, however, with Senate reform of the filibuster. As long as Republicans see that their only hope of ever winning elections again is to limit the voting population, to gerrymander and silo Democratic voters into nonexistence, and to cheat, Republican senators are not going to allow federal legislation to pass. There might be one or two who don't want to be lumped in with the rest of the white supremacists, but there won't be 10 of them willing to pass either the For the People Act, the vast elections reform bill passed in the House this month, or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

We are facing what one voting rights activist calls "a once-in-a-generation moment." Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, told The New York Times, "We either are going to see one of the most massive rollbacks of our democracy in generations, or we have an opportunity to say: 'No, that is not what America stands for. We are going to strengthen democracy and make sure everyone has an equal voice.'"

Which is precisely what Republican state legislatures are fighting, with states about ready to tip blue at the fore. Arizona and Pennsylvania—home to some of the most intense Big Lie litigation—have the most voter suppression legislation under consideration now. It's Georgia, though, that's becoming the epicenter for the fight. The state's flip to electing Joe Biden president and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock as its two senators, flipping the U.S. Senate to the Democrats in the offing, has resulted in omnibus voter suppression bills in both the state House and Senate. Earlier this month, the House passed legislation to restrict in-person voting; require voter ID for absentee ballot requests; limit absentee ballot drop boxes and require the boxes be inside buildings and thus inaccessible when the buildings close; limit weekend early voting; shorten the absentee voting period; and make giving people waiting in line to vote food or drink a misdemeanor. Last week, the Senate passed S.B. 241, 29-20 legislation that ends no-excuse absentee voting; restricts it to disabled people and people over 65 or who can provide they won't be home on Election Day; and requires ID for absentee ballot requests.

That ID requirement is just one of a litany of barriers for people of color. "That is a burden for people, particularly working folks and poor folks," LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Any time there are barriers placed on people who are already at an economic disadvantage, what you're going to see is a drop-off in voting." Which is precisely what Republicans intend.

Advocacy groups are now ramping up action to get Georgia's largest national corporations—among them Coca-Cola, UPS, and Delta Airlines—to get involved by stopping their donations to Republican legislators and to speak out. "They spent most of Black History Month peppering us with Martin Luther King quotes, but now that Blacks' future is in jeopardy, they're silent," Nsé Ufot, the chief executive of one participant, the New Georgia Project, said. "We're using digital ads, billboards, direct action at warehouses and call centers—we're serious. This is urgent."

Many of those same corporations succeeded in 2016 in a pressure campaign that resulted in then-Gov. Nathan Deal's veto of an anti-LGBTQ "religious liberty" bill.

That's one of the strategies for fighting the Georgia bills. But there has to be a national strategy for all the other states, one that addresses what's happening in that state and all the others. "Well, first of all, I do absolutely agree that it's racist," Georgia grassroots leader Stacey Abrams told CNN's Jake Tapper Sunday.

"It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie," Abrams said. "We know that the only thing that precipitated these changes, it's not that there was the question of security." In another interview on Meet the Press Abrams argued for her proposal that Senate Democrats carve out "an exemption to the filibuster for the purposes of protecting our democracy," for passing voting rights and election legislation. "Look, I understand wanting to protect the prerequisites of an institution. I served as minority leader for seven years," Abrams continued.

But I also understand that there were times where we had to look at the fundamentals of our processes and do what was right. And we know the Senate has done so to suspend the filibuster for the purposes of judicial appointments, for Cabinet appointments and for budget reconciliation. I would say protection of the fundamentals of our democracy, which we have seen bloodily debated through the January 6th insurrection, certainly counts.

She argues that the move is justified in the Constitution, which gives the Congress power "that it alone has, which is to regulate the time, place and manner of [federal] elections." Muller agrees. "It is too important an issue and we are facing too big a crisis to let an arcane procedural motion hold back the passage of this bill," she told the Times arguing that the threat to voting rights is an existential threat to democracy. Without a free and fair vote, everything else is lost.

If anyone thinks there's any chance Republicans relent for this, consider the second most likely convert (after Sen. Lisa Murkowski), Sen. Susan Collins. Her Maine colleague, independent Sen. Angus King told News Center Maine that he wasn't thrilled with the idea of getting rid of the filibuster, but "If Mitch McConnell and his caucus are going to be no, no, no, to everything, and everybody's going to be on board, then we've got to get things done for the country." Collins showed her true feeling about "bipartisanship" in response. "I would remind my dear friend Angus that the Democrats could be in the minority two years from now. And they will wish that they had not done away with the filibuster if that happens, that I can assure you."

Add threats to lying, cheating, and reimposing Jim Crow to the Republican toolbox for what they call governing.

On Newly Revealed Audio, Trump Pressures Georgia Official For ‘Right Answer’ On 2020 Vote

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Donald Trump infamously called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, berating him for Trump's loss of Georgia and demanding that the official "find" him 11,000 more votes in what some legal experts say was a criminal act. But less known until now is that Trump also called the chief investigator of the Georgia secretary of state's office in his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In that call, he blamed Stacey Abrams and "dishonest" Fulton County, which is home to Atlanta, for his defeat -- which he also insisted was not real, saying that he won the state by "hundreds of thousands" of votes.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday evening reported on the call, and published the audio.

"Something bad happened," Trump told the Georgia investigator, Frances Watson. "When the right answer comes out, you'll be praised."

Watson was not about to be intimidated.

"I can assure you that our team and the [Georgia Bureau of Investigation], that we are only interested in the truth and finding the information that is based on the facts."

In the recording of the call, which has never been released before, Trump pressures Watson repeatedly to help him out.

"This country is counting on it," Trump tells her, meaning him winning Georgia.

"You have the most important job in the country," he also tells her.

Trump also falsely claims he won other states, like Texas, by the biggest margin ever: "We won Texas by a record, Texas was won by the biggest, biggest number ever," which is untrue.

(For the record, George W. Bush twice, along with Barack Obama twice, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon all won Texas by more votes than Trump did in both 2020 and 2016. In fact, Trump won Texas in 2016 by more votes than he did in 2020.)

"I won Georgia by a lot," Trump proceeds to tell Watson, "and the people know it, and, you know, something happened. Something bad happened."

"The people of Georgia are so angry at what happened," he says, seemingly noting that Biden was declared the winner. "They know I won, won by hundreds of thousands of votes."

He went on: "I hope you're going back two years as opposed to just checking, you know, one against the other because that would just be sort of a signature check that didn't mean anything but if you go back two years. And if you can get to Fulton [County}, you're going to find things that are going to be unbelievable. The dishonesty, that we've heard from … good sources, really good sources, but Fulton, Fulton is the mother lode you know as the expression goes, Fulton County."

At one point Watson appears to try to get Trump off the phone but he keeps talking. She says she knows how busy he is and she is "shocked that you would take time" to call.

"You know, they dropped the ballots, they dropped all these ballots. Stacey Abrams, really, really terrible. I mean just a terrible thing. And I will say this. If it went, I mean hopefully this will show because if you go back two years or four years, you're gonna see it's a totally different signature but. But hopefully, you know I will. When, when the right answer comes out you'll be praised. I don't know why they made it so hard. They will be praised, to people will say, 'great,' because that's what it's about that ability to check, and to make it right."

The Journal adds that "Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has launched a criminal investigation into alleged efforts to have officials in Georgia overturn the state's results of November's presidential election. In a February letter to officials, Ms. Willis said a grand jury would convene this month.