Civil rights leaders were pleased with President Joe Biden’s call on Tuesday to change Senate filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation, but insist they will not be satisfied until a bill is passed.
“We are tired of (Biden) being quiet,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, told CNN at Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home in Atlanta, where he and others at the forefront of the voting rights fight gathered following the President’s speech.
Civil rights leaders have urged Biden to take action on two voting rights bills that have stalled in the Senate, while Republican-led states have moved to enact restrictive voting laws that have raised the stakes. But Democrats don’t have the votes to pass either bill without changing the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to end debate on legislation. And, as of now, they don’t have the votes in their own party to change those rules to push through voting overhauls.
So while Biden threw his full support behind changing the rules on Tuesday, the continued pressure from key activists and groups underscores the risks the President and his party face if they fail to advance voting rights legislation before the crucial midterm elections, let alone before Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s deadline of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is less than a week away.
Asked if Biden has been urgent enough in pushing for voting rights, Martin Luther King III told CNN the President showed deliberativeness on Tuesday but he was “watching anxiously” to see how Biden works on the issue back in Washington, DC. Civil rights leaders are calling on the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.
“We will not be satisfied, any of us, in a number of communities…until we have the John Lewis bill, as well as the Freedom to Vote bill passed,” King said.
Arndrea Waters King, the wife of Martin Luther King III, said the Biden White House should put its full power behind voting rights just as it did in getting the bipartisan infrastructure law passed.
“We saw what happened when he used the full weight of the White House behind something,” she said. “What we are simply saying is that we want to see that same full weight, the same full power being used behind the protection of our voting rights.”
A coalition of Georgia voting rights groups had boycotted Biden’s remarks Tuesday, urging the President and Vice President Kamala Harris to remain in Washington if they don’t have a clear plan to advance voting rights legislation. But Morial defended Biden’s visit to Georgia, a key state in the voting rights battle and home to a high-stakes Senate race this year.
“Why shouldn’t the President come to the front lines of the battle, not operate simply in the Rose Garden or in the Oval Office to demonstrate and dramatize for the American people?” Morial said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson also told CNN the President’s speech was crucial.
“The President, of course, has a stake in the Voting Rights Act because he cannot win without it. … The stakes are very high in this situation,” Jackson said.
Biden on Tuesday said he was tired of behind-the-scenes discussions in Washington. “I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet,” Biden said, slapping his hand on the lectern to emphasize his point. “I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking actions on voting rights.”
Schumer said Tuesday the Senate will hold votes on voting rights and filibuster changes by Monday’s federal holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. But changing the filibuster rules faces opposition from at least two Democrats, namely Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.