We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Alamy Stock Photo
US Senate

Under pressure Biden set to gamble on voting rights reform in US Senate

Biden flew to Atlanta for a major speech urging reforms that will decide whether the country chooses ‘democracy over autocracy’.

CAUGHT BETWEEN PRESSURE from the left and right, US President Joe Biden was today to endorse a risky bid to force voting rights reforms through the Senate, arguing that US democracy faces a “defining” moment.

Biden flew to Atlanta, Georgia, the crucible of the civil rights movement, for a major speech urging reforms that will decide whether the country chooses “democracy over autocracy,” according to excerpts released by the White House.

Coming off a powerful speech last week to mark the 6 January anniversary of an attempt by Donald Trump’s supporters to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Biden was set to describe the fate of the two bills under consideration in the Senate this week as “a turning point.”

It’s a high-risk, high-reward issue for Biden, who is infuriating Republicans, while also trying to balance the more conservative wing of his party with the increasingly frustrated Black community.

Underlining Biden’s shaky political standing, prominent Black politician and Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams missed his Atlanta event due to what Biden called a “scheduling” glitch, while a big civil rights group said it was boycotting due to lack of tangible progress.

Still, the speech was the boldest step yet into the issue by Biden, who attended a wreath-laying at the crypt of slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr and visited the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church ahead of his speech.

“This is one of those defining moments, it really is,” Biden told reporters as he left the White House.

Senate rules gamble

Democrats accuse Republican state legislatures of enacting a spate of local laws deliberately restricting the voting rights of minorities and curtailing early voting and mail-in voting in an effort to suppress Democratic support.

However, Republicans describe the Democratic push as an attempt to manipulate the election landscape by switching power to federal authorities. They are unanimous in opposing the two bills up for debate in the Senate.

Nearly all bills in the Senate require 60 votes in order to pass, due to the filibuster rule. The Democrats only have 50.

To break that impasse, Biden is set to endorse a rarely used manoeuvre circumventing the filibuster just for this vote, a White House official said. This would let Democrats pass the two voting rights laws without any Republican support. The filibuster would remain in place otherwise.

The problem for Biden is that this so-called “nuclear option” is seen as a declaration of war by Republicans, who warn it will open the floodgates to lifting the filibuster on all sorts of issues and end any semblance of bipartisanship in the chamber.

Perhaps worse for Biden, the manoeuvre needs unanimous Democratic support to happen — and that’s far from assured, with at least two of the more conservative Democratic senators clearly sceptical.

If circumventing the filibuster fails, Biden will not only see the voting rights bills defeated but face political humiliation.

Raising the stakes

The president travelled to Georgia at a time when his approval ratings are stuck in the low 40s and Republicans are predicted to take over Congress in the November midterm elections. The White House says Biden feels it’s time to go big on a key Democratic ambition.

“He believes the stakes should be raised,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

According to Democrats, the two bills under consideration would prevent cheating, ranging from partisan drawing of election districts to the use of security measures as a way to dampen voter turnout in pro-Democrat districts.

The laws would also end the potential ability of state authorities to rig results under arcane procedures — a scenario that Trump allies tried to encourage after his 2020 loss to Biden.

“We are going right to the belly of the beast, or ground zero, for voter suppression,” Cedric Richmond, White House senior adviser, told Politico.

But Biden will be in Georgia knowing that his Black supporters — key to his winning 2020 coalition — are watching his every step.

“His visit can’t be a mere formality,” warned MLK’s son, Martin Luther King III, in a tweet.

As he entered the Ebenezer Baptist church, Biden seemed to appeal for patience. “Keep the faith,” he said.

© AFP 2022

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel