‘I will not yield,’ Biden says as voting rights battle heats up

US president endorses changing Senate filibuster rules to pass legislation that would protect voting rights.

US President Joe Biden giving speech
Voting rights advocates and some Democratic legislators have called for a change to US Senate rules to allow voting rights legislation to pass, as several US states have passed voting restrictions in the wake of the 2020 elections [Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]

United States President Joe Biden has said he backs an effort to change Senate rules in order to pass voting rights legislation, declaring that the move would be aimed at protecting the “heart and soul” of the country’s democracy.

In a speech in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, Biden said he had been having quiet conversations with US senators for months over the two bills up for debate, which have stalled because they do not have enough Republican votes to move them past the filibuster.

“I’m tired of being quiet!” Biden emphatically told the crowd, pounding the podium. “I will not yield. I will not flinch.”

Biden added that if no breakthrough on the legislation can be achieved, Senate lawmakers should “change the rules including getting rid of the filibuster for this”.

“To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed,” he said.

Current rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation — a threshold that Senate Democrats cannot meet alone because they only have a 50-50 majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties.

Republicans unanimously oppose the voting rights measures, and not all Democrats are on board with changing the filibuster rules. Conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin rebuffed the idea on Tuesday, saying he believes any changes should be made with substantial Republican buy-in.

“They’re not going to succeed,” John Cornyn, a Republican senator from Texas, said. “This is going to be another example of President Biden and his party overpromising and underdelivering.”

And even if Democrats clear the obstacles to pass the voting rights laws, it could be too late to counter widespread voting restrictions passed in 19 states in recent months.

Those curbs followed former President Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss and his false claims — embraced by many Republican leaders — that the contest was marred by widespread voter fraud.

Voting rights advocates and some Democratic legislators have increasingly called for a change to the Senate rules in the face of the state voting legislation.

“Our democracy stands in its final hour,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said on Twitter. “Unless President Biden applies the same level of urgency around voting rights as he did for BBB [Build Back Better Act] and infrastructure, America may soon be unrecognizable.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are supporting two federal pieces of legislation that would represent the largest overhaul of US elections in a generation by striking down hurdles to voting enacted in the name of election security, reducing the influence of big money in politics and limiting partisan influence over the drawing of congressional districts.

The package would create national election standards that would trump state-level laws. It would also restore the ability of the US Department of Justice to police election laws in states with a history of discrimination.

At the same time, some voting rights advocates continue to criticise the Biden administration for being too slow to make domestic voting rights a priority.

Stacey Abrams, a prominent Georgia Democrat, voting rights advocate and former legislator, for example, skipped Biden’s events in the state.

When asked if he was snubbed by Abrams, Biden blamed a scheduling mix-up and said he was “insulted” by the question. “I spoke to Stacey this morning,” Biden said. “We have a great relationship … We’re all on the same page.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies