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  • Michalina Kubicka

The President Takes on Voting Rights

Hey y’all!

Happy New Year! We missed you over the break, and hope your holidays were full of love, laughter, and a lot of rest. Now, back to the tough stuff.

(Patrick Semansky | AP)

Yesterday, President Biden and Vice President Harris travelled to Georgia (which, as we know, has been on the forefront of the battle over voting rights) to give a speech about that very issue. Today, we’re going to break down what the speech did (and didn’t do), and what next steps on protecting voting rights might look like. Let’s get into it:

Big Moments in The Speech

“To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.”

  • Translation: President Biden endorsed changing Senate rules (up to and including getting rid of the Senate filibuster) to pass voting rights protections. That’s a big shift: getting rid of the filibuster is something that President Biden has vehemently opposed in the past, including during his decades serving in the Senate.

“And today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge: Pass the Freedom to Vote Act. (Applause.) Pass it now… Look, it’s also time to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

  • Translation: President Biden gave his fullest-throated endorsement yet of the two main voting rights bills currently under consideration: both the Freedom to Vote Act, which was put forward as a more moderate compromise bill by Senator Manchin (and which we talked about on the blog here) and the more progressive John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (which we talked about on the blog here).

“We have 50-50 in the United States Senate. That means we have 51 presidents… I’ve been pretty good at working with senators my whole career. But, man, when you got 51 presidents, it gets harder. Any one can change the outcome.”

  • Translation: This was a not-so-subtle hit on the Democratic senator who has been most forcefully blocking progress on voting rights: Senator Joe Manchin. The Washington, D.C. press corps has taken to calling Senator Manchin the “Second President” because of the power he seems to hold as the divided Senate’s swing vote, much to the (apparent) chagrin of President Biden.

“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

  • Translation: President Biden is done playing games. He's coming for those who oppose protecting voting rights, hard, drawing direct parallels between their actions today and those of segregationists and confederates.

So What’s Next?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed in a tweet on Monday that the Senate will move to protect voting rights this week. Many expect this to include a vote on changes to the Senate’s filibuster rule, with an appropriate deadline of Martin Luther King Jr. Day: January 17th.

For now, the Biden Administration has made it clear that democracy reform, including stronger protections for voting rights, is now their top priority – in the coming weeks, we’ll have the chance to see whether they live up to that promise.

Thanks for reading, y'all! Talk soon.

“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin

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