Biden Turns His Back on Voting Rights

How can Democrats ask for your vote if they fail to defend your right to vote?

The Biden administration’s push for robust protection of voting rights – made more urgent by Republican attacks on the electoral process both before and after the 2020 election – is now floundering. The chief barriers are self-inflicted: two Democratic Senators are unwilling to overturn the filibuster and Biden refuses to make filibuster reform a priority. 

In The New Republic, Matt Ford takes stock of the status of two significant voting rights bills and concludes that they are being abandoned: 

President Joe Biden effectively conceded defeat on passing two major voting rights bills in Congress on Tuesday, pointedly declining to throw his political weight behind filibuster reform and urging private groups to find alternate means to resist voter suppression in lieu of strengthened federal protections. “Legislation is one tool,” Biden told the audience, “but not the only tool.”

The president’s speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia carried dire warnings about the state of American democracy. Biden declared that efforts to thwart GOP-led restrictions on voting are “the test of our time.” He described the wave of bills in Republican-led state legislatures across the country as “the twenty-first-century Jim Crow.” He offered grim predictions for the future, warning that Republicans’ “election subversion” efforts are “the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.” He told Americans that the eyes of the world and of history were upon them.

Ford crisply captures the contradictions of the Biden position, which is that protecting voting rights is simultaneously essential but unlikely to happen.

In lieu of legislation, the White House and the Democratic Party is settling for workaround solutions, such as using the Department of Justice to challenge new restrictions on voting rights in states like Georgia, and also pushing for donors to spend more money on get out the vote efforts. Speaking at Howard University, Kamala Harris said, “With this $25 million, the Democrats are investing in the tools and technology to register voters, to educate voters, to turn out voters, to protect voters.”

It’s an open question whether these workarounds will in fact do the job. What I’d emphasize is that that by abandoning the fight on voting rights laws, Democrats run the risk of demoralizing their base. After all what’s the message if you argue that there is an existential threat to democracy but that the party cannot unite to pass bills to fight that threat? It’s a message that the Democrats aren’t willing to fight for you, when push comes to shove. And if that’s the message, why would anyone support the party? 

(Edited by Emily M. Keeler)

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