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Tag: voting rights bills

Warning Against Autocracy, Biden Urges Senate To Drop Filibuster, Pass Voting Rights

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

President Joe Biden implored the Senate to reject the filibuster rule and pass landmark voting rights legislation on Tuesday, saying that recent efforts by pro-Trump Republicans to suppress voters and subvert the popular vote were out of step with American history.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will make a turning point in this nation’s history,” Biden said, speaking at Atlanta University Center in Georgia. “The issue is will we choose democracy over autocracy? Light over shadow? Justice over injustice? I know where I stand… The question is where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?”

“There’s one thing every senator, every American should remember,” Biden continued. “History has never been kind to those who sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights… It will be less kind to those who side with election subversion. So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered? The consequential moments in history present a choice.”

Biden’s Tuesday speech was his most forceful yet in support of passing sweeping new federal legislation that would fortify the right to vote after a decade where Republican-majority state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed majority have acted in their respective spheres to roll back voting options and federal authority to defend voting.

There are two bills before the Senate. The Freedom to Vote Act, would, among its provisions, blunt state-led efforts to restrict mail-in or absentee voting—a widespread response to 2020’s most popular way that Democrats voted, make Election Day a holiday, and block redistricting that dilutes minority representation. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the Justice Department’s authority under the Voting Rights Act to overrule new laws or procedures that limit participation in jurisdictions with histories of electoral discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the Justice Department’s enforcement powers in 2013.

The bills have repeatedly passed the House but have run into roadblocks in the Senate, where the Republicans have not even allowed debate to begin. Biden said that intransigence, as well as the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes for a debate to proceed, have degraded the body’s character and held voting rights hostage to a power-hungry minority.

“The filibuster is not used by Senate Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart,” Biden said. “The filibuster has been weaponized and abused. While the state legislative assault on voting rights is simple; all you need in your [state] house and senate is a pure majority [to pass bills.] In the United States Senate, it takes a supermajority, 60 votes, even to get a vote.”

“State legislators can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities,” he continued. “If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority. Today, I’m making it clear, to protect our democracy I support changing the Senate rules—whichever way they need to change—to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.”

It is unclear whether Biden will be able to convince the foremost Democratic holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, to carve out an exception in the Senate’s filibuster rules for voting rights legislation. The White House hopes to force the issue by next Monday, January 17, which is the federal holiday honoring civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Earlier in his speech Biden said pro-Trump legislators, in statehouses and Congress, were bent on taking the country into an era where authoritarian rule would overshadow representative democracy. He explicitly accused the GOP’s Trump faction of resurrecting white supremacy.

“Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion,” Biden said. “It’s no longer about who gets to vote [the mid-20th century’s struggle centered around voter registration]. It’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote, and whether your vote counts at all.”

“It’s not hyperbole. This is a fact,” he continued. “Look, this matters to all of us. The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them; simple as that. The facts won’t matter. Your vote won’t matter. They’ll just decide what they want, and then do it. That’s the kind of power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies.”

Kamala Harris And The Worsening Job Of Vice President

Kamala Harris has been vilified by critics on the right, but the people who may end up detesting her most are not conservatives or even contemporaries. They are future vice presidents, who will curse her for loading up the office with heavy burdens.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that she will lead the administration's charge against voting rights restrictions being devised in one red state after another. The assignment reportedly came at her request, and it's easy to picture Biden pondering the idea for 0.01 seconds before offloading the issue to her.

He had already given his veep a job that might have gone unfilled if he had invited applications: figuring out the reasons and remedies for the migration crisis at the southern border. Given that large numbers of people from Latin America have been sneaking into this country for decades, there isn't much chance Harris will find a way to dry up the flow. By now, it should be clear that unauthorized migration is not a problem that can be solved but a situation that can only be managed.

If Harris wants to keep busy, it's an ideal portfolio. But it carries extensive political risks, because any policy she offers is likely to inflame conservatives who oppose immigration, legal or illegal, or liberals who favor making it easier for foreigners to come and for those already here to stay. Most likely, she'll alienate both, no matter what she does.

A campaign against GOP measures to curtail voting won't antagonize people across the board, but it's pretty much doomed. In states where Republicans wield power, governors and legislators would no more heed Harris' recommendations than they would pierce their navels.

After Georgia passed new restrictions in April, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta joined the chorus of critics denouncing them. Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. Will Smith's film company, which had planned to shoot a movie in Georgia, pulled out. None of it mattered: The voting law stayed in place.

Likewise, opposition from American Airlines and Dell Technologies cq could not deter the Texas legislature, which was poised to approve a strict voting law until Democrats walked out to block action on the bill. But the bill will undoubtedly pass in the special session that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott plans to convene.

Nor does Harris stand much chance of persuading enough senators to support federal voting rights legislation, unless Democrats unite to scrap the filibuster. About the best she can hope for is to rouse enough public disgust with new voting restrictions to elect more Democrats in 2022 — a beastly challenge for the party in power in an off-year. But the more exposure she gets, the more Republicans will depict her as the terrifying reincarnation of Lady Macbeth.

All this represents a further transformation of an office that used to be the functional equivalent of a long vacation — or a long detention. Under most of our presidents, the vice president's job description was to get up each morning, check to see that the boss was alive and then pass the time with funerals, photo ops, and crossword puzzles. "You die, I fly," said George H.W. Bush when he was Ronald Reagan's spare tire.

The 19th-century Senate titan Daniel Webster declined an invitation to run for the office with the comment, "I do not propose to be buried until I am dead." Nelson Rockefeller, appointed by Gerald Ford in the aftermath of Richard Nixon's resignation, groused, "I never wanted to be vice president of anything." But Bob Dole, Ford's running mate in 1976, looked at the bright side: "It's indoor work and no heavy lifting."

It was Walter Mondale, under Jimmy Carter, who managed to acquire meaningful duties in the White House, and that role has grown with Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, and Mike Pence. Harris is on course to enlarge it further.

All this will pay off should she eventually become president, by acquainting her with the impossible responsibilities that go with the office. As Barack Obama said, when "something reaches my desk, that means it's really hard. Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision, and somebody else would have solved it."

And if Vice President Harris doesn't solve the problems she's been assigned, President Harris will know just the person to give them to.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.