Push is on to protect voting rights by ending filibuster
Biden gave a powerful speech on voting rights yesterday but unlike the Lyndon Baines Johnson speech on voting rights in 1965, it contained no specific strategy to achieve the president's goal. Johnson demanded passage of the Voting Rights Act. Biden did not call for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or the For the People Act nor did he call for ending the filibuster the GOP is using to block those bills. | AP

WASHINGTON—Even as progressives and Texans fighting for voting rights praised Democratic President Joe Biden’s speech on voting rights, they’re demanding those rights be protected and enhanced by killing the Senate filibuster, thus letting key pro-voting rights measures go through.

But Biden hasn’t gone there yet, though the progressives—so far—didn’t say so.

In his ringing speech in Philadelphia on June 13, Biden compared new GOP voter suppression laws, state by state, to repression of Blacks by the Ku Klux Klan and Southern Jim Crow laws after the end of Reconstruction.

“We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said. “That’s not hyperbole. Since the Civil War—the Confederates back then never breached the Capitol as insurrectionists did on Jan. 6. I’m not saying this to alarm you. I’m saying you should be alarmed.”

Those insurrectionists were motivated by constant lies and “Stop the steal” demands from Biden’s GOP predecessor, Donald Trump. His same Big Lie about the 2020 election’s outcome motivated the tide of voter repression laws in deep-red, often-gerrymandered states—with Texas now in the lead.

The only way outnumbered Texas state House Democrats could stop the GOP anti-voting rights steamroller was for enough of them to flee the state capital building in Austin to deny the GOP majority the quorum it needed to jam through its anti-Black, anti-brown anti-voting bill. So 51 did, flying to D.C.

And on landing, they lobbied Senate Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris and pro-filibuster holdout Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., to halt the GOP assault on voting rights by abolishing the tactic. Senate Republicans are using the filibuster to kill S1/HR1, the For The People comprehensive electoral reform bill, and S5, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act—and just about everything else.

“When they (the Republicans) showed their true colors, we left the state because the answer is here,” State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, told MSNBC. “We’ll continue to talk to these senators to make the case that what’s happening in Texas is going to happen in the whole country.” But Collier didn’t say what Harris’s response on the filibuster was.

Biden was a Delaware senator for more than 30 years. The most he’ll do is to lobby his ex-colleagues to restore the famous—or infamous—“talking filibuster,” where a solon who actually wants to stop legislation has to stand on the floor for hour after hour after hour and talk and talk and talk. Voting starts when the talker stops. But Biden didn’t even offer that solution in his Philadelphia address.

Progressives cited the Texas lawmakers’ decision as yet another reason to kill the filibuster and preserve democracy by passing the For The People Act. It would override the repressive GOP laws, including the pending one in Texas.

They also want senators to OK the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to restore tough federal Voting Rights Act enforcement powers against governments—including Texas—with a history of racist voter restrictions. The Lewis Act would reverse a party-line 5-4 Supreme Court ruling almost a decade ago which gutted the VRA’s key safeguards.

“They’re willing to risk arrest and leave their homes for months to save democracy in Texas,” Jeff Slattery, a senior staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said of the lawmakers who flew to D.C. Slattery spoke during a protest outside the state capital building the day of Biden’s speech.

“Isn’t it the least you can do to vote to end the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation? The people of Texas are begging you,” he told the Dallas Morning News.

People for the American Way circulated a petition online for people to sign, declaring “The filibuster is downright undemocratic and is currently the biggest hurdle to provide desperately needed and popular reforms so strengthen democracy and protect fundamental rights.”

The AFL-CIO had no immediate comment on Biden’s speech, but officially demanded on March 11 the abolition of the filibuster. It called the filibuster a Jim Crow racist relic, a “creature of white supremacy” and “a tool used by those seeking to preserve the social, economic and political status quo.”

“A single senator can still block legislation with a filibuster that cannot be ended without 60 votes,” AFL-CIO General Counsel Craig Becker, a former NLRB member, added in a blog he posted on the American Constitution Society’s website.

“The For the People Act and the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act both passed the House with sizable majorities but confront the need for a super-majority in the Senate.  One bill protects political democracy, the other workplace democracy,” he continued.

Texas Democrats are joining Our Revolution’s fight to demand that” Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., “stop defending the filibuster so we can finally pass vital voting rights legislation. The consequences of failure are dire and could mean the end of American democracy,” that group, formed by Bernie Sanders presidential campaign supporters, added.

“In order to defend against the GOP’s transparent attacks on our democracy, we need to fight on the federal and state levels—and right now, Texas Democrats need our help,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a fundraising letter.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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