DSoon after, President Joe Biden called for a change in Senate rules to make way for passing voting rights legislation, and the White House is pushing for action. As the Senate Democratic caucus continues negotiations on a possible filibuster franchise exception, White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond said senators straddling the fence must remember that the right to vote is the foundation of democracy.
“Rules are a means to an end,” Richmond said. “The end here is the right to vote in constitutional and free and fair elections, and we should not let a Senate rule that has been rarely used for 100 years.
He called it a defining moment in American history. It’s unclear where the Senate Democratic caucus will fall in a vote for the rule change on Thursday, with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema still publicly voicing her opposition to even a narrow disqualification from voting.
Combined into a single bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act passed the House Thursday along party lines with no Republicans joining in its support. Once again, the fate of the franchise in America rests with the Senate.
Before losing the majority, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow an earlier version of the John Lewis Advancing Voting Rights Act to be introduced. After the death of Representative John Lewis, McConnell claimed to honor and respect Lewis, but blocked suffrage legislation.
In a minority position, McConnell is pushing his party members to toe the line and not support any Democratic legislation, including voting rights, despite the vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006.
Opposition to a disqualification in favor of the right to vote is based on a false narrative of honor and institutional rule as partisan attacks on democracy mount across the country. Inasmuch as MSNBC Story recently noted, “Senators are entitled to have their own opinions, but they are not allowed to invent historical details that do not exist.”
For his part, Manchin has previously said he wanted to keep the Senate’s 232-year tradition intact, except that the filibuster did not exist when the Senate was created. Moreover, prioritizing an antiquated system that does not meet the needs and values of the American people raises questions about what Manchin and Sinema hope to accomplish with their opposition.
“Which side do you want to be on the side of George Wallace, Connor and Jeff Davis, or do you want to be on the side of Martin Luther King, John Lewis and Abraham Lincoln,” Richmond said. “This is one of those times when people will judge your legacy by it.” Unlike the bipartisan infrastructure plan, he said no Republicans were willing to protect the Democratic process.
“The president never backed down from his desire for compromise,” Richmond said. “He never backed down from his desire to do things in a bipartisan way. But you have to have people on the other side ready to come to the table. And so far, we haven’t seen many Republicans willing to show the courage needed to come forward.
Recalling the passage of the 15and Amendment at a press conference on Thursday, Rep. Jim Clyburn explained that formerly enslaved black people won the right to vote through a direct party line vote.
While much of the attention has been focused on Manchin and Sinema, reports this week suggest that SSinema’s colleague in Arizona, Senator Mark Kelly, is undecided on where it stands on the rule change. Some see the preservation of the filibuster as essential to re-election despite the overwhelming support for action on voting rights.
“I will just tell these senators that whatever election or job they save can be theirs,” Richmond said. “Making sure people can come and vote is so important.”
Senator Angus King favored the proposal to change Senate rules to pass necessary suffrage legislation. An independent who sometimes caucuses with Democrats, King has previously expressed reluctance to change the filibuster but is now on board with a rule change to pass voting rights legislation.
“It is ironic in the extreme to enshrine the principle of bipartisanship here in the Senate in that we cannot undo the damage done to democracy by 100% partisan legislatures around the state,” King said. “I’m all for bipartisanship, but in this situation that doesn’t seem to be in sight.”
The last time the Voting Rights Act was authorized, 16 Republican senators, including McConnell, voted to pass it. Republicans who backed the subversion of democracy for Trump’s Big Lie are now trying to cry foul over legislation to fix loopholes in the existing law and ensure greater uniformity in federal elections. But in 2017, Republicans used a filibuster rule change to advance the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“The Senate owes it to all Americans, and especially black and brown communities, to pass #right to vote legislation today,” tweeted Taifa Butler, president of think-and-do-tank Demos. “It’s the only way to ensure a fair and inclusive multiracial democracy in America. The right to vote shouldn’t be partisan. It’s American.”
Biden finally seeks change to Senate filibuster rule to pass voting rights legislation
President Biden is finally getting serious about voting rights, hopefully it’s not too late.