It’s Time for Biden to Lead on Voting Rights

It’s Time for Biden to Lead on Voting Rights

It’s Time for Biden to Lead on Voting Rights

He must use his power and influence to get voting rights laws to his desk. And that means working with senators to prevent the filibuster from standing in their way.


Senate Republicans have just reaffirmed their shameless resistance to protecting voting rights through the use of the filibuster. This time, they are preventing the Senate from moving forward on any measure to enhance voting rights, including the For the People Act, whose voting rights and democracy-strengthening provisions are supported by bipartisan majorities of the American people. It is time for presidential leadership.

President Joe Biden said at the National Constitution Center last month that we are facing “the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.” Defeating that threat is far more important than showing loyalty to Senate traditions like the filibuster.

My grandmother turns 105 this year. Her grandfather was born a slave and served as a Reconstruction-era state legislator in Virginia. That is a remarkable life. But he also experienced the racist betrayals of colleagues who voted to make white supremacy the law of the land and prevent people like him from ever being elected again. It took a century to right that wrong with passage of the Voting Rights Act.

President Biden must do more than call on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Right Act, which would overturn and prevent the worst antidemocratic laws being passed to protect Republicans’ power. He must use his power and influence to get those laws to his desk. And that means working with senators to prevent the filibuster from standing in their way.

President Biden said in Philadelphia that he would ask his “Republican friends” to oppose these attacks, adding. “Have you no shame?” If he is talking about congressional leaders and state legislators, we know the answer to that question. When it comes to their own power, they have no shame. They are pushing laws that courts have found to target Black voters with “almost surgical precision.” They are bragging about taking back the House through abusive partisan redistricting.

Their goal is to rig future elections in their favor and guarantee their ability to control the White House, Congress, and state legislatures. And they are having an impact. For the first time in my career, I am hearing from potential candidates who are being forced to factor new voter suppression laws into their decision-making about whether to run for office.

Let us be clear. The Republican attack on democracy is not just about voting. It is about stopping progress on everything Biden voters turned out for: good jobs at higher wages, expanded access to health care, greater justice and racial equity in law enforcement, action to address the catastrophic threats of climate change, and more.

With all due respect, Mr. President, your Republican friends are not going to be talked out of this. They fear the rising multiethnic, multigenerational progressive coalition that put you in the White House. And they will do anything to stop it.

We have seen their willingness to promote brazen lies from Trump and his supporters—lies that have been repeatedly debunked by Republican and Democratic election officials. And we are watching them build new barriers to the ballot box.

The Biden administration is taking action. The Justice Department is boosting resources for voting rights enforcement. But after decades of right-wing efforts to gain domination of the federal courts, capped by Trump’s Supreme Court justices, we cannot count on the courts to uphold our most fundamental rights. The Supreme Court’s right-wing majority has continued to weaken the Voting Rights Act by gutting its enforcement mechanisms.

In his Philadelphia speech, President Biden quoted the legendary late civil rights activist John Lewis, saying, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act.”

Indeed, 50 years ago, when racists and reactionaries were filibustering to defend Jim Crow and block passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, President Johnson did not simply assure activists that they could “out-organize” voter suppression. He used the power of the presidency to push and persuade and get those bills passed.

President Biden, you spoke truth to the American people when you sounded the alarm about the assault on voting rights and democracy. You must be unrelenting in your commitment to turning back that assault. Your presidency and your legacy depend on it.

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