Biden To Give Voting Rights Speech Tomorrow

[ Posted Monday, July 12th, 2021 – 15:08 UTC ]

Tomorrow, President Joe Biden is scheduled to give an address on voting rights. This could be a rather crucial speech, because it might signify how much political capital Biden is willing to expend over the issue. This might also signify the relative chances of whether the Democrats are going to do anything at all about it before the next election. Biden could just give a nice polite speech (but refuse to call for drastic action), or he could alternatively use the speech to lay out a series of actions he thinks Democrats should now take. Hopefully, it'll be the latter.

Biden is at his core a centrist, of course. But there comes a point when even the most committed centrist has to admit that the other party is just so dead-set against doing what is so obviously right that they need to be taken out of the equation in order to act. We are not only at that point, we've actually been here a while now.

Case in point: the Democrats in the Texas legislature just walked out for the second time to prevent a Republican voter-suppression law from passing. Some of them are reportedly going to fly to Washington to lobby Democrats -- by informing them of how the battle is going on the frontlines out there, in all the statehouses controlled by Republicans. The time for action on a national level is now, and this window is going to slam shut in the not-too-distant future.

And yet, some Washington Democrats still harbor the illusion that somehow 10 brave Republican senators are going to somehow be convinced to sit down and hash out a bipartisan bargain that would strengthen voters' rights in every state in the Union. Spoiler alert: they are not going to do so. Those ten Republicans just do not exist, period.

To recap, the Democrats have two bills they are trying to pass. The "For The People Act" is a broad measure deemed to fix many of the ills of American elections, from reforming the redistricting process to public financing of elections to requiring presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax returns. It is an ambitious package, and it has already passed the House. They are also trying to pass an update of the Voting Rights Act, since the Supreme Court has pretty much left the old one in tatters.

Senator Joe Manchin tried an attempt at getting some Republicans interested in joining the effort. He did this by creating his own proposal, which watered the two bills down in many ways (completely jettisoning a number of good reform ideas), and then he added a sweetener for Republicans: a more-lenient version of "voter I.D." Progressives like Stacey Abrams immediately backed the Manchin proposal. To date, no Republican has even shown the slightest interest in joining the effort. And none will, no matter what changes Manchin might further contemplate.

The entire Republican Party is waging a war on voting rights. They are not only chipping away at the easiest ways for people to vote, but they are erecting as many hurdles as possible. That would be bad enough, on its own, but they are also passing laws which strip the power of deciding elections from state and local officials, and handing it to the legislature itself (or its political operatives). The next time Donald Trump (or any other Republican) starts a new Big Lie -- that somehow the election was stolen -- there won't be staunchly committed professionals in charge of counting and certifying and auditing the vote. There will instead be party hacks. This is why this is such an existential crisis. Because next time around it might actually work -- the way Donald Trump desperately wanted it to the last time around.

Donald Trump is leading the effort, banging his Big Lie drum as loudly as possible (which, thankfully, is a lot quieter now that he's been banned from social media). Trump will accept no reality that doesn't please him. Not only was the election stolen from him (even though not a shred of evidence of this fantasy exists), but Trump also called the insurrectionists who violently besieged the United States Capitol in an effort to violently derail Congress doing its constitutional duty: "tremendous -- in many cases, tremendous people, tremendous people." Seriously, that's what Trump is now saying. Remember Charlottesville?

Because Trump refuses to let it go, no other Republican is going to champion the cause of voter rights -- their entire party is working feverishly to change state laws in the other direction, after all. Forget getting 10 together -- what single Republican senator is going to defy not only his or her party, but also Donald Trump?

This leaves but one answer, which is precisely what I will be listening for from President Biden tomorrow. Bipartisanship cannot exist when one party is spending an enormous amount of time and energy making the problem worse. Based on nothing but a Big Lie.

Democrats are going to have to do this on their own, or it's just not going to get done, period. And that's what Biden needs to say. The big reason Joe Biden is giving this speech is because a group of civil rights leaders met with him recently. They are all concerned that Biden is spending far too much of his energy and focus on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the accompanying "human infrastructure" bill. The battle for civil rights legislation has seemed to take a back seat, and so the civil rights leaders told Biden he was the only one who could change that dynamic -- and give it the sense of urgency it demands. Especially since Biden owes Black voters in a big way, for the fact that he won the Democratic nomination with their overwhelming support.

So Biden will doubtlessly say that doing nothing is "unacceptable." He's said that much before. But will he take the next step? Will he explicitly call for a reform of the filibuster rules to allow constitutional and civil rights issues a simple majority vote in the Senate? Biden has not really gone that far before, so that would be the most newsworthy thing he could say.

If he does back changing the filibuster rules, then the entire speech will be for the benefit of Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who both have previously been against such a move. I have no idea if even this would work, at this point, but it's really the last, best hope for seeing real voting rights reform from this Congress at all.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Biden To Give Voting Rights Speech Tomorrow”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I hope it won't be TOO, too boring. Heh.

    Just read a piece in the NYTimes about how boring Biden's speeches are and how he mumbles and stumbles and this, that and the other thing.

    I guess there is nothing else for NYTimes columnists to write about these days ... ??

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    As to your last point, that Biden may choose to publicly call for filibuster reform, I wonder. Is that the best way to influence two senators, who have their own constituencies which are not particularly pro-Biden? I would have imagined that if Biden really wanted Manchin and Sinema to take one for Team D, he'd work behind the scenes to give them a chance to announce a change of mind on their own terms. For them to change their positions after the president announced to the entire country that he was expecting them to do so seems kind of hard or even humiliating.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I fully agree!

    It's not at all like Biden to put his fellow Dems on the spot like that. If this is going to be worked out it will be worked out behind closed doors before a public announcement with the two senators standing side by side the president.

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i think coming out in full support of manchin's proposal would absolutely be centrist, and so would bringing back the talking filibuster.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ... the talking filibuster ... you mean like the one Ted Cruz used?

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    yes, that. after 21 hours of reading green eggs and ham, even a gasbag like rafael cruz eventually runs out of gas. requiring the filibustering members to be physically present may not seem like much, but it makes a lot more sense than giving a 2/5 minority permanent veto power with zero personal cost to themselves.


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