President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 12, 2021, in Washington. Evan Vucci/AP
Texas House Democrats fled the state on Monday to block Republicans from passing a sweeping voter suppression bill and traveled to Washington, DC, to lobby their congressional counterparts to pass federal legislation protecting voting rights. “We are living on borrowed time in Texas,” Texas Democratic leaders said in a statement. “We need Congress to act now…to protect Texans—and all Americans—from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”
Now they want the White House to act with the same urgency.
In a speech on Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris called voting rights “the fight of our lifetime.” President Biden plans to deliver a major speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday denouncing GOP efforts to make it harder to vote, which White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday called “the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War.”
Yet voting rights advocates say the White House’s rhetoric about the existential threat to democracy has not been matched by action to solve the problem. Biden, they complain, has been much more engaged in trying to pass an infrastructure plan than in trying to persuade Senate Democrats to pass the For the People Act, the sweeping voting rights measure that was blocked by a GOP filibuster last month.
“Democracy versus autocracy is the battle of our time,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.
Beginning with a “massive national call-in to every U.S. senator,” the Poor People’s Campaign on Monday launched a monthlong campaign to push Congress to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster, pass the For the People Act, restore the gutted Voting Rights Act, and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour—progressive goals that have been thwarted by a combination of Republican obstructionism and Democratic acquiescence.
“Democracy versus autocracy is the battle of our time,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said Monday during an address that kicked off a “season of nonviolent moral direct action to save our democracy.”
“We must engage and escalate the nonviolent moral struggle and direct action for a Third Reconstruction,” Barber said, calling for the reinvigoration of an egalitarian movement to secure liberty and justice for all by building a true political democracy as well as a social and economic democracy that benefits and empowers the nation’s vast working-class majority.
Demonstrators hold up signs as the Declaration for American Democracy coalition hosts a rally calling on the Senate to pass the For the People Act, outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 9, 2021. | Caroline Brehman / CQ Roll Call via AP
WASHINGTON—It is no surprise that despite a spate of endorsements and a rally of backers Tuesday on Capitol Hill, the Senate sponsor of the For The People Act expects it’ll hit a Republican rock in a Senate vote to bring it up for debate.
Democratic President Joe Biden calls the For The People Act (S1/HR1) the most vital legislation of his presidency, in terms of preserving democracy in the U.S. But in another repeat of the GOP’s all-out assault on freedom, voting rights, and the U.S. Constitution, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky plans to have his entire caucus block it. That will be enough to block a vote from taking place Tuesday but will do nothing to prevent a firestorm of protest to spread across the country in what will be an epic battle to preserve democracy.
Labor and all of its allies, often led by groups like Indivisible, will make July a month of misery for cowardly Republicans who, afraid to separate themselves from Donald Trump and the Big Lie, and now afraid to buck McConnell in his attack on voting rights, will have to face the people they represent during the July Senate break.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, admitting it will be tough, says he is determined to use the power of the Justice Department to fight for the voting rights of the American people. Drew Angerer/Associated Press
WASHINGTON (PAI)—Not waiting for the Republican-clogged U.S. Senate to act, the Democratic Biden administration’s Justice Department will step up voting rights enforcement, big time. And it’ll concentrate its resources—and its lawyers’ talents–on states like Florida and Texas that are the biggest threats to voters, especially voters of color but also working-class voters in general.
And organized labor, led by the AFL-CIO, and 86 other unions, civil rights, and civic groups, all organized by the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, is cheering Biden’s Attorney General, Merrick Garland, on.
“Barriers to the ballot box are antithetical to our democracy and must be torn down,” they declared.
Garland’s June 11 speech came as the Senate prepares to vote on the For The People Act (HR1/S1), and as progressive groups, including the Poor People’s Campaign and Our Revolution—the Bernie Sanders supporters—step up their lobbying for it. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to bring it to the floor the week of June 21, even without the votes to pass it.
And he doesn’t have them. In the 50-50 Senate, GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has united almost his entire caucus against it. And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., the most conservative Senate Democrat has proposed a stripped-down alternative which, he hopes, will bring along the ten Republicans needed to halt the GOP filibuster.
Some academics and pundits have been postulating that the campaign finance, gerrymandering, and other reform provisions of S. 1, the For the People Act, should be dropped, and the Senate should proceed to try to pass only the voting rights provisions of the bill.
This approach makes zero strategic sense.
There is nothing to indicate that taking out key democracy reforms from the bill will improve the chances of passing S. 1.
There is a powerful case, however, for why this should not be done.