This week, President Biden gave a much-anticipated speech on voting rights in Philadelphia. He called the fight against restrictive voting laws “the most important test of our democracy since the Civil War,” and he criticized what he called a “21st century Jim Crow assault” on voting rights.
But a lot of the people who voted for Biden think he hasn’t done enough so far to protect their right to vote.
Co-founder of Black Voters Matter LaTosha Brown said that Biden made some important points in his speech, but that “the challenge for me is what he didn’t say.”
“If we’re talking about a sense of urgency like he said in his speech about democracy, this country has gone to war in the name of democracy,” Brown said in an interview before she and other Black women leaders met with Vice President Harris at the White House on Friday to talk about voting. “How will we respond to what the Republicans are doing right now? And will we use the full power of the White House to make sure that our citizens have permanent voting rights?”
Many people who fight for voting rights say they think Biden has spent a lot more of his time and political capital on other things. As an example, they point to the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Biden talked with lawmakers about this issue behind closed doors earlier in the week. He tried to get them to support the plan.
Ezra Levin, the co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible, said, “He’s still using his bully pulpit, he’s still going to states, he’s still giving speeches, he’s still going to Congress, and he’s using the full power of his office to get those votes.” “Why shouldn’t it work for democracy if it works for roads and bridges?”
Biden tried to get Congress to move again on two federal voting rights bills that have been stuck. He said that passing the For the People Act was a “national imperative.”
Biden said on Tuesday, “As soon as Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, I will sign them and let everyone see them.” “That will be a very big deal.”
Democrats, civil rights activists, and progressives had been waiting a long time for the president to take charge as a wave of Republican-led bills across the country tried to make it harder for people to vote. But for some, it fell way short of what they had hoped for.
Levin stated that although the president seemed to be leaving the fight to others, “it felt like he completely recognizes the challenges to our democracy.”
There is mounting frustration at Biden’s refusal to end the filibuster.
Many advocates for expanded voting rights feel that Vice President Biden’s address was missing a crucial component: a detailed explanation of how the president intends to get the bills through Congress. He did not provide any hints about what he might do differently to fight Republican voting laws or to make sure the federal bills were passed.
The president will “use his time, utilize his position to make sure he’s speaking about, elevating it, engaging in” the issue of voting rights, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.
Psaki was evasive when asked about the president’s long-term ambitions.
During his speech on Tuesday, Vice President Biden discussed the Justice Department’s efforts to overturn state voting legislation approved this year and the growth of the agency’s voting rights division. Republicans insist these restrictions are necessary to reduce voter fraud, even though there is little evidence of a systemic problem.
More people are calling for federal intervention because of a wave of state legislative activity and court rulings that make it harder to oppose assaults on voting rights.
Pressure on Biden to support ending the filibuster to pass the For The People Act and the John Lewis Civil Rights Act has been mounting since the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in a 2013 decision.
Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, remarked, “I didn’t believe filibuster was the ‘F’ word that we would be talking about this week.” Given how effectively the Republicans have exploited it in the past to stymie civil rights legislation, it was remarkable that it received no mention at all in Biden’s speech.
A spokesman for the Just Democracy group, Stephany Spaulding, expressed concern that Black and brown voters would be disenfranchised if Biden chose to ignore the filibuster.
Democracy itself is at stake,” Spaulding warned. We are headed down the road to totalitarianism, and that will be the lasting impression of the Biden administration.
Harris intimated to NPR’s Asma Khalid that she has talked to senators about exceptions to the legislative filibuster ahead of Biden’s address this week, but she said she would not publicly discuss an issue that the White House has said is up to the Senate.
For Harris, “the right to vote is the right that unlocks all the other rights,” meaning that it is the most important problem that Congress can address. That’s why it ought to be one of its top concerns, too.
Biden calls for a ‘coalition’ on voting rights
When asked about the current legislative climate, Biden seemed to acknowledge it by saying that legislation is “one tool, but not the only tool.” On Tuesday, he praised Harris for her pivotal role in the administration’s work and appeared to shift his attention to the upcoming midterm elections and the necessity of coalition building.
He prioritized campaigns that would inform voters of the new regulations, sign them up to vote, and encourage them to cast ballots.
Biden said that “we have to form a coalition of Americans of every background and political party” to “raise the urgency of this moment.” This includes “the activists, the students, the church leaders, the labor leaders, the corporate executives.”
Also Read: The New Voting Restrictions
Several reformers were offended by the implication that they were working alone in their campaign for voting rights.
Levin from Indivisible stated, “I don’t know what he’s talking about” when asked about the suggestion that a new coalition needed to be formed and plans rethought. “No one is stopping the president from serving as the coalition’s leader if that’s what he wants. Put up a fight, please.”
Community organizers, Ufot added, “can’t whip votes in the Senate,” despite the president’s recognition of the value of grass-roots organizing.
She then added, “But the president of the United States can.” “I wasn’t precisely listening to the lecture so that I could learn more about the things we’re already doing. I listened attentively to find out what position Biden-Harris would take, but nothing about that was mentioned.”
During the 2020 election cycle, a long-standing problem came to a climax when some Black activists advised Democrats not to take the support of Black people for granted. Some of them even implied that their citizenship was in jeopardy because of the attacks on their ability to vote.
“People of African descent and other people of color in the United States frequent this location. We have complete confidence in a well-established democracy. But when it comes to making that a reality, it’s on us Black and brown voters and activists to get the ball across the goal line “argued Spaulding of Just Democracy. “It isn’t us who have to put in more effort or change our tactics. The onus is on President Biden and the Democrats to make use of the authority we have granted them.”
As Brown of Black Voters Matter pondered on the participation of African American voters in the most recent election, she expressed it more succinctly:
“We understood the stakes, and we came through. Now that we’ve “delivered” the White House, we demand nothing less in return.”
Also Read: U.S. Voting System