Biden to vote on election law as nation-turning point in speech

President Biden plans to back pressure from Congressional Democrats to pass long-blocked election bills, even if it requires changing Senate rules, in a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday aimed at boosting support for the legislation in jeopardy with votes in a few days.

While House and Senate Democrats support the proposals, bills need 60 votes to advance in the Senate 50-50. Both are expected to be well below that mark due to opposition from GOP lawmakers, prompting Democrats to make a parallel effort to change the filibuster procedure to make it easier to pass them. But two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have resisted such an approach, leaving any progress uncertain.

In his speech on Tuesday, Biden will argue the Democrats’ case that new federal laws are needed to counter recent state measures, which party lawmakers present as a threat to access to the ballot box, especially to those in the polls. minority voters. Republicans are calling the proposals too federal in scope and say Democrats are giving a distorted picture of states’ attempts to strengthen election integrity.

Mr Biden will say the votes “will mark a turning point in this nation,” according to excerpts released by the White House. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I am, ”reads Mr. Biden’s speech. “And so the question is where the institution of [the] United States Senate stand? “

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A White House official said Mr Biden would discuss his support for changing Senate rules if necessary to pass election-related legislation. Previewing the remarks, the official said Mr Biden would call on Republicans to support the bills. The aide made no specific mention of pressuring recalcitrant Democrats over filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY) has set a deadline of Jan. 17 for the Senate to take action on election law before turning to possible changes to Senate rules. He admitted that the bet faces an uphill battle.

A bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, would make Election Day a national holiday, impose 15 days of early voting and require all states to allow postal voting, among other changes. The other, named after the late Representative John Lewis (D., Ga.), Would give the federal government more control over state voting procedures, after Supreme Court rulings weakened the 1965 law. on voting rights which gave Washington control over changes to the rules of states with a history of racial discrimination.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) Said on Monday Democrats were using the election bills as a pretext to weaken filibuster, which has also delayed other Democratic laws.

“The main Democrats say they want to smash the Senate because of a sinister anti-voting plot sweeping America, of course that is totally wrong. There is no such thing, “he said. The federal rules would override” common sense voting laws that citizens across the country have chosen for their own states, “he added.

The president’s speech comes less than a week after he delivered a forceful speech on the anniversary of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, in which he criticized former President Donald Trump for ‘having created a “network of lies” with his false allegations of electoral fraud. He and other Democrats have tried to draw a direct line between the fraud allegations, the Jan.6 riot and the need for new federal election laws.

In a speech to the nation on the anniversary of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, President Biden accused former President Donald Trump of spreading a “web of lies” about the 2020 election Photo: Michael Reynolds / Pool via Reuters

“I think he needs to let the American people know that filibuster has its place when it comes to politics, but it has no place when it comes to constitutional issues,” said Rep. James Clyburn (D ., SC), House Democrat No.3 and a leading ally of Biden. Last summer, Mr Clyburn began asking for a waiver of the voting rights legislation.

Republicans, who have repeatedly blocked election laws, said Democrats were overplaying their game.

Changing the obstruction “is no different than what they try to do with elections – it’s about gaining power, maintaining it and – if they can’t get it fairly – changing the rules in the middle of the game, “tweeted Senator Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.).

Georgia is among a group of states where GOP lawmakers imposed more restrictive voting laws after the 2020 election, in part citing the need for tighter electoral security. Laws include limits on postal ballots and drop boxes, following an increase in postal voting during the pandemic. In Georgia, Texas and Florida, Republican lawmakers have added new ID requirements for voting by mail, among other changes.

The new law in Georgia allows the State Electoral Council, under certain conditions, to remove and replace local election directors. Republicans say it would require clear wrongdoing or incompetence in a county. Opponents fear that such changes will make it easier for partisan officials to intervene.

Activists and Democratic leaders said they were encouraged by the tone and urgency Mr. Biden displayed in his Jan.6 address, but some want the president to adopt a more combative style ahead of the midterm elections.

“His speech gives an indication that he maybe understands, but I don’t think so far that he or his White House team has fully recognized the threat to democracy,” said Cliff Albright, executive director of Black Voters Matter, an advocacy group that signed a letter saying Mr. Biden should not arrive in Georgia without a specific plan to enact a voting law.

Some of these groups later said they would boycott the Biden event.

Quoting former Democratic leaders, Mr Albright said: ‘Lyndon Johnson would make it happen. Harry Reid, as Senate Majority Leader, would make it happen.

Mr Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris fly to Atlanta in separate planes with a contingent of Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) And Jeff Merkley (Golden.). Prior to the speech, they will participate in a wreath laying in the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ms. Coretta Scott King, and then visit the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King once preached.

Stacey Abrams, a voting rights activist and former leader of Georgia’s Democratic minority, currently running for governor, is in conflict and will not attend the speech, a spokesperson said. She tweeted thanks to Mr Biden for “refusing to give in until the job is done.”

Republicans and other advocates of filibuster say the rule encourages bipartisan cooperation and limits policy changes from one Congress to another when power changes hands.

A year after pro-Trump rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers and Americans remain divided over what happened on January 6, 2021 and who is to blame. WSJ reporters examine changes in Congress since then and what that could mean for the 2022 midterm elections. Photos: Getty Images

Mr Biden, who served in the Senate for decades, was reluctant to call for filibuster changes, frustrating progressives. But late last year, he said he was open to creating an exception to the 60-vote threshold for voting bills. To change Senate rules, Democrats would need the backing of 50 Democrats, with Ms Harris severing all ties.

Other proposed changes include assigning greater responsibility for blocking a bill to the minority party, requiring 41 senators to be present and voting no, rather than 60 senators present and voting yes. Democrats are also considering removing the filibuster threshold for a motion to proceed with a bill, allowing debate and amendments, but leaving the second filibuster threshold in place.

To get 50 votes, party leaders would have to rally both Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema. Mr Manchin says any change should have Republicans buy-in, an unlikely prospect. Ms Sinema said she would oppose any change to the 60-vote threshold.

When asked if there was anything Mr Biden could say in Georgia on Tuesday that would change his mind about the filibuster, Mr Manchin was evasive.

“Systematic obstruction is what we have, our rules. We need good rule changes to make this place work better, ”said Manchin. “Getting rid of the systematic obstruction does not improve functioning. “

Write to Alex Leary at [email protected] and Eliza Collins at [email protected]

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