WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 13th January, 2022) US President Joe Biden's endorsement of a controversial change in Senate rules may still not be enough to get significant voting rights legislation passed because he failed to prioritize getting every member of his own party on board, activists told Sputnik.
Biden told an audience at Atlanta's Morehouse College on Tuesday that he supports eliminating the filibuster - a mechanism that allows the minority party to block action on legislation - in order to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights bills. The move came after some civil rights groups boycotted Biden's speech over lack of progress on the bills.
This rare digression from Senate practice, often referred to as the "nuclear option," is widely expected to spark Republican retaliation. However, although he backs elimination of the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass a measure in the 100-seat Senate, Biden also said he would support a "carve out" - that is, applying the exemption to the voting rights bills alone.
"I don't particularly think that it's going to pass with this Congress," voting rights advocate and organizer Ria Thompson-Washington said when asked about the elimination of the filibuster. "The White House needs to be whipping votes to ensure that voting rights are passed."
Moreover, she added, Biden has still left the door open for Republicans to use the mechanism on future legislation. The voting rights activist hopes Biden has more in his pocket than just speeches and "exceptions."
"The problem is a 'carve out' leaves the filibuster to remain as an obstruction to later fights," Thompson-Washington said. "The filibuster, a Jim Crow relic, should be abolished. Period."
US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has been able to block debate on both bills three times. Yet, even with the removal of the filibuster, Biden will still need the support of every Democrat in the evenly-divided chamber - which is problematic because Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have previously refused to consider changing the rule.
New Georgia Project CEO Nse Ufot, whose organization is among those who boycotted the speech, said the Biden administration failed to make the issue a priority despite voters giving the Democrats control the White House and both chambers.
"We want you (Biden) to act like the house is on fire because it is. We gave them our votes, a governing trifecta - the White House, the Senate and the House. Forgive me for expecting them to govern," Ufot said. "What's the point of winning if you won't govern?"
In addition to boycotting the speech, Ufot and her organization joined a coalition of civil rights groups that have called on Biden to apply enough pressure to get the acts passed, both of which would blunt aggressive ways Republicans have attacked and sought to erode the voting rights of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and others.
Thompson-Washington said boycotting the Biden-Harris event was absolutely the right thing to do. She also said Biden should go to states like Arizona or West Virginia instead of Georgia, where Black women brought out the vote to win two senate races for the Democrats.
Political commentator Avis Jones-DeWeever said Biden dragged his feet as 500 bills were introduced in Republican-led state legislatures aimed at restricting voting by mail, reducing ballot locations, and the time allowed for early voting. The bills also created onerous photo ID requirements and gave Republicans the power to sidestep the work of county election officials, she added.
"Biden owns the fact that he didn't properly prioritize this issue," Jones-DeWeever said. "Finding vaccines and fighting COVID was his first priority, I understand that. But voting rights should have been next. He saw Republican voter suppression activity in state after state after state and did nothing."
TAKE ACTION OR SEE 'BLOODLETTING' IN 2022
DC-based Political analyst Jamila Bey said Biden actually has the power to take immediate action and his party will pay a price if he fails to do so.
"We know that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was decimated by the US Supreme Court. But you have authority, Mr. Biden, to make an executive order such that the same way the right to bear arms is protected, you can do the same thing for Black people."
Without Section 5, Bey said, there is no Federal preclearance to change laws in municipalities and states where they have seen voter suppression measures.
Bey said Biden's speech in Atlanta might make for a great "photo op," but is not sure what it will mean if voters who put him in office are disenfranchised. She also warned that if Democrats fail to destroy the deadlock in the Senate, they will pay a price.
"I deeply believe that if voting rights is not delivered in the next three months there will be a bloodletting in 2022," Bey said. "We already have a fatigued voting population, already have Black folks asking 'what are you going to do?'"
Ufot and Jones-DeWeever argued that it is foolish and unwise to try to compromise with a party that no longer sees the need to govern, is openly racist and anti-Black and has adopted a strategy of waging war against voting rights.
"What we're seeing is an existential threat to our democracy and our ability to govern," Ufot said. "Because this is happening to Black people, you don't care. This country has a high tolerance for Black suffering. I'm probably not gonna get invited to anymore White House dinners but I'm good with that."