December 17, 2021
The White House wants to mark the new year with a forceful push for voting rights—portraying the protection of the ballot as a battle for democracy itself. But despite a renewed emphasis from an increasingly impatient and frustrated base, prospects for legislative success still look grim, reports Politico.
West Wing aides believe that fresh federal efforts to defend the ballot and install safeguards ahead of the midterm elections are likely to be dashed by some Democrats’ resistance to changing the Senate filibuster—a reluctance that has been spearheaded for months by Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).
The White House has been considering connecting the voting rights drive with the upcoming first anniversary of the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, making the case that the most sacred tenant of America’s democracy remains under siege one year after the insurrection fueled by the election fraud lies told by former President Donald Trump.
To strongly make that case, the president and his team had been hoping to clear the legislative deck by the January 6 anniversary. But the president’s social spending bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, appears stalled for the foreseeable future in the Senate, with Manchin’s refusal to commit to the $1.75 trillion legislation seemingly certain to push the measure into early 2022.
According to Politico, Biden signaled on Wednesday, December 14, that he’d be fine with prioritizing election reform for the time being, saying: “If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it. … There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights.” But, previously, White House aides had consistently signaled that they wanted the social spending bill first and voting rights second.
That sequencing has irked some of the president’s most fervent supporters, who fear he may get neither.
“The time is now. The urgency could not be more palpable than it is now,” said the Reverand Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and a Biden confidant, who, like others, argued that voting rights should have been the Administration’s top priority in the wake of the moves by nearly 20 Republican-led legislatures to tighten state election laws.
“An inaction at this point would lead to an inaction of Black voters. People are saying, ‘If they don’t do this, I’m not voting,’” the civil rights leader said. “People are saying they feel betrayed.”
Echoing the sentiment of a growing number of Democrats who feel that Biden has simply not placed the defense of voting rights and elections at the center of his presidency, Sharpton said activists are now targeting Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 18 as an unofficial deadline for at least showing some real progress on voting rights. He and other activists plan to ramp up their criticisms of Democrats—with potential threats to refrain from campaigning ahead of the midterms—if action is not taken.
“I don’t want to become too dramatic,” said Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri), “but voting rights may be the only thing we have to at least halt the trek away from democracy.”
While the full scale of what the White House is planning remains unclear, Biden is expected to deliver a speech connecting the day to the defense of the ballot, aides said.
But aides also recognize that a full-court press on voting rights—even if good politics—would be doomed to fail without a change to the filibuster. And they are skeptical that they can bring reluctant Democrats on board for such changes.
While Manchin has said he is open to reforming the chamber’s rules in a bipartisan manner, he does not support nuking the legislative filibuster.
Other Democrats are losing patience, however. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) delivered a passionate speech from the Senate floor this week pushing Democrats to act on voting rights—noting that the Senate just scrapped a 60-vote threshold to pass a debt ceiling hike. Represenhtative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina), who has been in touch with Warnock, said he believes Democrats are “in a good place with the voting rights bill,” though it’s “not the timeline that I would want.”
“I don’t want it to be constrained by trying to do it before the end of the year. I don’t know that you have to do it before the end of the year,” Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House and a close Biden ally, said in an interview. “I just want us to get a bill done that will help preserve this democracy because if we don’t, I think we’ve lost this democracy.”
Research contact: @politico