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In President Joe Biden’s America, there are shades of gray between red and blue.
While Biden is preaching that bipartisanship is possible in Washington on infrastructure and is making an effort to work with Republicans, his Justice Department is alleging “racially motivated” overreach by the GOP in US states on elections.
It’s a complicated moment in American politics, trying to fit room for bipartisanship around grave accusations about right and wrong aimed at the political opposition.
Biden, who has maintained the independence of his DOJ, has labeled GOP attempts at the state level to restrict voting access “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” That was echoed by his attorney general, Merrick Garland, who announced on Friday that the US government will take the state of Georgia to court and argue new election laws are targeted at driving down the Black vote, which if true would be a despicable power grab by state GOP leaders.
Law said to deny Black votes. Kristen Clarke, who leads the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said Friday at a news conference that elements of Georgia’s new voting law “were adopted with the intent to deny or abridge Black citizens equal access to the political process.”
Garland said the department would be taking many steps to make sure every American has access to the ballot box. Multiple US states have passed or are advancing variations of Georgia’s law, including decisive electoral prizes like Texas and Arizona.
Partisan obstruction is the norm. The move to block these laws in court comes days after Republicans, despite their Senate minority, utilized the parliamentary custom of the filibuster to block a new national voting standard.
Many Democrats had argued the lockstep objection by Republicans to any national election reform was cause to end the Senate’s long-standing practice of deference to the minority party.
Bipartisanship feels foreign. The announcement of the infrastructure deal was several days ago. Biden wants desperately for his presidency to heal partisan wounds, and he was beaming when he announced Thursday that a small working group of senators from both parties had come together not on protecting the vote, but on spending nearly $600 billion in new taxpayer money.
“This reminds me of the days when we used to get an awful lot done up in the United States Congress,” Biden said, surrounded by 10 lawmakers from both parties.
Details are everything. The details still have to be worked out, but the coming together of moderate Democrats and Republicans was notable since both Republican leaders, who want nothing more than to hand Biden defeats, and progressives, who want a much more ambitious infrastructure proposal, were immediately critical.
When does it count as bipartisanship? Plus, there is a philosophical question at play. Biden insists that the bipartisan deal – which invests in traditional infrastructure like bridges, roads and eco-friendly projects like charging stations – be paired with the not-bipartisan plan to invest trillions more dollars in the social infrastructure to help US families afford educational opportunities, child care and more.
Does that odd pairing of bipartisan deal with Democrats-only spending still equal bipartisanship? TBD.
Another agreement with fewer details. Even less clear is whether the announcement of a separate bipartisan framework for policing reform reached by a smaller group of lawmakers. It will have to withstand the countervailing perceptions of a rising violent crime rate versus new video of the violent arrests of two men in South Carolina.
The obstacles are well-known. What’s easier to discern is that Republicans have no interest in working with Biden. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had already declared earlier this month that “the era of bipartisanship is over,” after lawmakers passed a bill meant to spur competition with China.
It will be a long, hot summer for the lawmakers trying to push these frameworks into law. Voters will have to decide if they prefer their parties to squeeze compromise from the middle or rest on gridlock from the flanks.
Compromise could be a hard sell for Democrats aiming to please a progressive base that doesn’t understand why a Democratic president with Senate and House majorities can’t find more expedient ways around GOP obstruction.
Compromise could be a nonstarter for the large number of Republican voters who don’t believe Biden should even be President. While the efforts to undo or override the 2020 election seem preposterous and the list of even Republican lawmakers trying to move on grows, the so-called Big Lie pushed by former President Donald Trump that he really won the election (that he lost) continues to motivate many Republicans.
Still, it was a bad week for the Big Lie. Trump’s conspiracy theory enabler Rudy Giuliani had his law license suspended in New York, a GOP-led report in Michigan debunked the false claims of voter fraud there and a court order in Georgia Thursday dismissed most of a case aimed at inspecting 2020 election ballots there.
One return to normalcy. The new Department of Justice effort to protect voter access in 2022 is allowing the strange bedfellows created by the Big Lie to re-sort along party lines, however. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, have been the villains for pro-Trump Republicans who want to ignore their state’s 2020 election results.
Raffensperger, in particular, rejected Trump’s pressure to “find” votes and dismissed the lie of election fraud.
But now they’re focused on 2022, and opposing the Biden administration while defending the curbs on access to the vote enshrined in Georgia state law could help them both with the GOP base ahead of the their reelection campaigns next year.
Kemp accused the Biden administration of “weaponizing the US Department of Justice to carry out their far-left agenda that undermines election integrity and empowers federal government overreach in our democracy.”
Raffensperger said it’s “no surprise that (the DOJ) would operationalize their lies with the full force of the federal government. I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court.”