In a high-profile voting rights speech Tuesday, President Joe Biden plans to “blast the denial of the right to vote as grounded in autocracy, undemocratic, un-American, and unpatriotic,” a White House official shared with POLITICO.
And the president will call for a “new coalition” of advocates, activists, students, faith leaders, labor leaders, and business executives “to overcome this un-American trend and meet the moment” through “turnout and voter education.”
Biden will say “in no uncertain terms” that attempts to limit voting access in Republican-led states “are the most significant threat today to the integrity of our elections, and to the security of the right to vote for people of all races and backgrounds,” said the official, who shared some details of the speech. And the president will take aim at election changes that “could allow partisans to throw out the votes of anyone for made up reasons,” in what appears to be a reference to Georgia’s new law where the state legislature now appoints the majority of the board of elections and that board can replace local election officials.
Biden’s speech on voting rights at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center on Tuesday comes as the president is facing rising pressure from civil rights activists, progressives and some in party leadership to use new and aggressive tactics to combat Republican voting laws.
While Biden’s speech may not give activists, nor a growing number of Democrats, what they’re desperately calling for — the endorsement of a carve out for the legislative filibuster specifically for their signature voting rights bills — the president will lay out how Democrats plan to meet what his White House is calling the greatest threat to democracy since the Civil War.
The president will also look back to the country’s past history of voter suppression including KKK campaigns of terror, poll taxes, and literacy tests, according to the White House official. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden would also note that “the greatest irony of the Big Lie is that no election in our history has met such a high standard, with over 80 judges, including those appointed by his predecessor, throwing out all challenges.”
Biden will again call on Congress to pass Democrats’ sweeping bill to change the election system and another that would restore key provisions under the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision. And he’ll say the work to pass those bills is “only beginning,” the official said.
And the president will outline what his administration is doing to protect voting, including an executive order to direct federal resources toward voter education and ballot access in addition to the Justice Department's expansion of its Civil Rights Division.
But Biden is severely limited, in part by the nature of the presidency but also because of the makeup of Congress, where Democrats have a slim House majority and control an evenly split Senate.
Those limitations, however, are driving Democrats to consider new tactics, including changing the legislative filibuster — which establishes a 60-vote threshold for most legislation to pass through the Senate and allows Republicans to block new voting rights legislation, among other Democratic priorities. And a growing number of Democratic lawmakers are looking to Biden to help make that happen.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), long an opponent of the filibuster, said he hopes to have a conversation with the White House about the procedural rule and that more of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate will change their mind about amending it.
“I'm sure that President Biden could be influential but he'll have to make that decision,” Blumenthal said of Biden pushing for a filibuster change.“I hope that he'll do everything possible.”
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told POLITICO last week that Biden “should endorse” a change to the filibuster and use his power to press Senate Democrats, like centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who are resistant to such a change.
Biden could “pick up the phone and tell Joe Manchin, ‘Hey, we should do a carve out.’” Clyburn said. “I don't care whether he does it in a microphone or on the telephone — just do it.”
Asked whether the voting rights bills could realistically reach Biden’s desk this year, Clyburn said, “I know it’s possible. The question is whether or not it's probable.”
“The way is clear, developing the will is what has to be done,” he said.
The White House rejected such an approach Monday when asked about Clyburn’s comments.
“[A] determination about making changes will be made by members of the Senate, not by this president or any president, frankly, moving forward,” Psaki told reporters Monday when asked about changes to the filibuster.
But pressed on whether Biden sees any role for himself — akin to former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s arm-twisting of reluctant Democrats during the battle to pass the Voting Rights Act — in the legislative process, the White House pointed to Biden’s rhetoric and current actions.
“If it were waving a magic wand to get voting rights legislation on his desk through any means, he would do that,” Psaki said, appearing to argue that Bden’s endorsement of a filibuster change wouldn’t change the math in the Senate. “But it requires the majority of members in the Senate to support changes to the filibuster.”
“What he can do as President is to continue to lift up, elevate, advocate, engage, [and] empower people across the country,” Psaki added. “That's the most instructive role he can play.”
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