WASHINGTON (AP) – Facing a call to ‘save American democracy’, the Biden administration has unveiled new efforts to protect access to the ballot amid growing complaints from civil rights activists and other Democrats that the White House has not done enough to counter Republicans. -state-led legislatures attempt to restrict voting procedures.
President Joe Biden met with civil rights leaders in the West Wing on Thursday, while Vice President Kamala Harris announced $ 25 million in new Democratic National Committee spending for actions to protect access to the vote ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Biden and his team highlight ongoing legal efforts to protect voting rights. They also promised a major legislative push after Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping election overhaul last month. The president told reporters that he planned to “speak at length” on voting rights and that he “would hit the road on this issue.”
On Friday, the White House announced that Biden would be traveling to Philadelphia on Tuesday to discuss “actions to protect the sacred and constitutional right to vote.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president “will go to the cradle of democracy to defend the moral imperative to make voting more accessible to citizens across the country.”
There has been growing frustration among members of Biden’s own party who view the GOP’s actions on voting as an existential threat to Democrats and democracy.
The pressure only increased after a Supreme Court ruling limited the ability of minorities to challenge state laws that Democrats say discriminate under the Voting Rights Act. Biden brought in outside advocates for White House meetings and consulted with advisers on the best strategy to fight the new laws.
“We will spare no effort to save American democracy,” said Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League, as he stood with Reverend Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders after Thursday’s meeting. . “This is an attack on a very fundamental value that underpins this country. When we look at what’s going on in this nation, we see an effort to impose a system, American apartheid. “
During the meeting, Biden and Harris assured civil rights leaders that they would push Congress to pass a voting law, while doing everything in their power to ensure full voter participation in the elections, according to a White House summary.
Thursday’s speech by Harris, responsible for leading the administration’s response to voting issues, was to be the first in a series.
“This campaign is founded on the firm belief that everyone’s vote counts – that your vote counts,” said Harris. “We want to help make sure your vote is counted, and that’s because our democracy is strongest when everyone participates.”
Several states have enacted new election laws, and others are debating them, after Republicans seized on former President Donald Trump’s false claim of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election as a pretext to pass a new one. legislation restricting access to ballots.
Democrats have grown nervous that the new laws could eliminate participation in next year’s midterm elections, as the party tries to keep very narrow margins in both houses of Congress.
“My friends, it is never too early to stand up for your rights,” said Harris. “With these new laws that have been passed, or are trying to make, we have to start now to end strong.”
But some Democrats and voting rights activists believe the White House didn’t get started soon enough.
“We are back to the wall. It’s time. We’re out of time, ”said Sherrilyn Ifill, chair of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “I said to the president: we will not be able to get out of this threat to black citizenship.”
“We have to get the president to use his voice,” Ifill said.
Capitol Hill Democrats have previously attempted to respond with a sweeping ballot and election bill. But Senate Republicans united to block it. Most Republicans also rejected a separate bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reinstate sections of the voting rights law that the Supreme Court had previously weakened.
The standoff has increased attention to Senate filibustering, which, if left in place, would appear to be an insurmountable obstacle to the sweeping of congressional vote bills. With Republicans unanimous in their opposition, it would take the removal or modification of the filibuster for two bills still on the table to have a chance of being passed. Moderate Democrats like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema have so far expressed reluctance to change Senate rules that protect filibuster.
While not giving up hope of a legislative breakthrough, the West Wing has focused on other measures to protect the vote, including legal action by the Department of Justice and in individual states. , according to officials. The focus will also be on increasing voter turnout, with assistants highlighting the success Democrats had in securing votes last year at the height of the pandemic.
Biden believes “the vote is a fundamental right of the American people,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. “He will use all the levers at his disposal to defend this. “
Officials concede, however, that voter turnout is always more difficult in a non-presidential election year. Some frustrated aides, seeing the deadlock in the Senate, believe too much emphasis has been placed on federal legislation. They believe civic and business groups can also play a role in tackling voting restrictions, noting that an outcry in Georgia has helped dilute some of the plans proposed by the GOP.
The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision last week upheld voting limits in Arizona that a lower court had ruled discriminatory under federal voting rights law. It is the second major High Court decision in eight years which, according to civil rights groups and liberal dissenting judges, weakened the age-old civil rights law intended to eradicate discrimination in the vote.
Many Republicans continue to question the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, despite the lack of evidence of fraud. Republican elected officials in a number of states have responded by passing restrictions on early voting and postal ballots, as well as stricter voter identification laws, prompting some Liberals to demand more of Biden.
“We’ve passed the point where we’ve lost faith that he’s going to do it on his own,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. “Where’s your voting rights tour?” People have already started calling him. It’s just going to intensify.