Democrats change strategy on voting bill as Biden pushes for action

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described the plan in a note obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, on the eve of President Joe Biden’s visit to meet privately with Senate Democrats on the way forward. That still leaves Democrats with the need for a way to force a vote on legislation, now blocked by a Republican filibuster.

“We will finally have the opportunity to debate the voting rights legislation – something Republicans have so far denied,” Schumer wrote in the note to fellow Democrats, which described a workaround to avoid a Republican obstruction which blocked for months the formal debate on the legislation on the parquet floor of the Senate. “Senators can finally make the American people understand where they stand to protect our democracy and preserve the right of every eligible American to vote. “

By hosting a debate, Schumer will achieve the Democrats’ goal of shining the spotlight that prompts senators to say where they stand. The debate on the ground could stretch for days and carry echoes of civil rights battles a generation ago that led to some of the most notorious obstructions in Senate history.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to believe it’s easy,” Schumer told reporters on Wednesday. He called the surge a “tough fight.”

Democrats have pledged to counter a wave of new state laws, inspired by Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, which made it harder to vote. But after a first wave of activity, Democrats’ efforts have stalled in the tightly divided Senate, where they lack the 60 votes to overcome a Republican obstruction, which has led to their calls for a rule change.

Recently they have tried to breathe new life into the effort. Biden gave a fiery speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, where he told senators they would each be “judged by history” if they didn’t act. He is due to meet Democratic Senators on Capitol Hill Thursday in an effort to move the effort forward.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell scathingly refuted Biden’s speech on Wednesday, opposing his comparison of opponents of election law to racist historical figures, including George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama who ran for president, and Jefferson Davis, who was President of Confederation.

“You can’t invent a better publicity for legislative filibustering than what we just saw: a president abandoning rational persuasion for sheer demagoguery,” McConnell, R-Ky., Said from the Senate. “A president shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets what he wants proves exactly why the drafters built the Senate to test his power.” “

Asked Wednesday about a response to McConnell’s comments, Biden turned around, removed his black mask and said, “I love Mitch McConnell. He’s a pal.” The response came during Biden’s trip to Capitol Hill to pay tribute to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who died last week and lay in the rotunda.

Republicans are almost unanimous in opposing the election legislation, seeing it as too much federal in scope that would infringe on states’ ability to conduct their own elections. And they stressed that Democrats oppose the filibuster changes Trump sought when he was president.

For Democrats and Biden, legislation is a political imperative. Failure to pass it would break a major election promise made to black voters, who have helped Democrats control the White House and Congress, and come just before the midterm elections when slim Democratic majorities are on the line. also the second major setback on Biden’s agenda in a month, after Manchin halted work on the president’s $ 2 trillion social and environmental initiatives package shortly before Christmas.

The current package of voting and ethics laws would usher in the biggest overhaul of the U.S. election in a generation, removing obstacles to voting enacted in the name of electoral security, reducing the influence of big money in politics and limiting the partisan influence on the draw of congressional districts. The package would create national electoral standards that would trump GOP state-level laws. It would also restore the ability of the Department of Justice to enforce electoral laws in states with a history of discrimination.

Many civil rights activists believe Biden’s pressure on voting rights is too late to aggressively tackle GOP-backed changes in state election laws, which they see as a more subtle form of restrictions on voting rights. voting like the literacy tests and voting taxes once used to deny black voters the right to vote. Some boycotted Biden’s Atlanta speech on Tuesday.

The New Georgia Project, a group founded by Georgia Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams, was among those who called on Biden to skip the speech.

“We’ve heard this kind of rhetoric before,” the group said in a statement. “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Schumer had set the Martin Luther King Jr. public holiday of Jan. 17 as the deadline to either pass election legislation or consider revising the filibuster rules. It’s unclear whether the planned vote on rule changes will still take place.

Manchin, who played a major role in drafting Democrats’ election legislation, threw cold water on hopes on Tuesday, saying any changes should be made with substantial buy-in from Republicans – even if there isn’t has no Republican senators willing to sign.

It baffled South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Clyburn questioned the wisdom of reflexively seeking bipartisanship, noting that the franchise was granted to newly freed slaves in a party line vote.

“He appears to be supporting an obstruction of his own bill,” Clyburn said of Manchin. “This, for us, is very disconcerting.”

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PA Congresswoman Lisa Mascaro contributed.

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