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Biden, allies fight to keep the door open to voting rights protections

As Biden forces voting rights back into the national spotlight, this is no time for voting-rights advocates to give up. The door to progress remains ajar.


The point of President Joe Biden's speech on voting rights yesterday was not to present a detailed plan to protect voting rights, but rather to make the case that protecting voting rights is a moral imperative that cannot be ignored.

President Biden said on Tuesday that the fight against restrictive voting laws was the "most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War" and called Donald J. Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election "a big lie." In an impassioned speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden tried to reinvigorate the stalled Democratic effort to pass federal voting rights legislation and called on Republicans "in Congress and states and cities and counties to stand up, for God's sake."

Speaking at the National Constitution Center, the president, directing his remarks at his GOP opponents, added, "Help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our elections and the sacred right to vote. Have you no shame?"

It was clear in his remarks that Biden recognizes the seriousness of the threat. For proponents of democracy, that was the good news. The less good news is that while the president demanded action, a breakthrough remains unlikely.

That said, the door is not closed, at least not yet.

The legislative calculus hasn't changed: congressional Republicans will not support any Democratic effort to create a federal floor on voting rights below which states may not fall. And so long as the Senate's filibuster rules remain intact, and so long as members continue to abuse them, that means legislating on the issue appears impossible.

But talk in Democratic circles about possible carve-outs to the filibuster rules is getting a little louder. NPR reported yesterday, for example, "With voting rights legislation stalled in the Senate because of Republican opposition, Vice President Harris suggested that she has talked to senators about exceptions to the legislative filibuster."

What's more, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-Ga.) told Rachel on the air last night that he's had "extensive conversations" with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Congress' most conservative Democrat and a senator who's repeatedly said he's opposed to reforming the institution's rules.

Clyburn concluded, "[T]he filibuster I think has its place, but not when it comes to voting and other constitutional issues. So we'll see where we go from here. I am hopeful that Joe Manchin will do what I know that he is capable of doing and that is the right thing."

This comes on the heels of a recent Associated Press report, which added, "Discussions are ongoing among congressional Democrats on how to proceed, with leaders noting privately that both [Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Manchin] oppose eliminating the [Senate's filibuster] rule -- but that doesn't mean they would oppose changing it."

I can appreciate why voting-rights advocates see this as a Sisyphean task, but this is not the time to give up.