US president Joe Biden will seek to drum up public support against what the White House described as an “onslaught of voter suppression laws” in Republican states, with Democratic efforts to enact new voter protection laws facing long odds in a sharply divided Congress.
During a major speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the president will “lay out the moral case for why denying the right to vote is a form of suppression” and “redouble his commitment to using every tool at his disposal to continue to fight to protect the fundamental right of Americans to vote against the onslaught of voter suppression laws”, said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary.
The speech comes as Republican state legislatures push for tighter restrictions on voting in the wake of last year’s presidential election, which Donald Trump has falsely claimed was “stolen” from him. Republican lawmakers have pushed for tougher rules on when and how to vote, including a rollback of early voting provisions put in place amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of mid-May, lawmakers had enacted at least 22 bills to restrict voting in 14 states this year. At least 61 other draft laws in 18 states were being considered by state legislatures. The US justice department has sued the state of Georgia to block a law it passed limiting ballot access, which was condemned by companies including Coca-Cola and Delta.
On Monday, Democratic legislators in Texas took the dramatic step of fleeing the state’s capital, denying Republicans there a two-thirds quorum required to proceed with a vote on a bill to limit ballot access. The state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, later threatened to arrest the fleeing Democrats when they returned.
Psaki said Biden would “decry efforts to strip the right to vote as authoritarian and anti-American” and “stand up against the notion politicians should be allowed to choose their voters or to subvert our system by replacing independent election authorities with partisan ones”.
The US Supreme Court earlier this month upheld two voting laws in Arizona that opponents said discriminated against racial minorities, in a major decision that could make it more difficult to bring legal challenges against state voting rules.
The decision came eight years after the court scrapped a “coverage formula” that required certain states to get federal sign-off before tightening voting laws. The formula was part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law by then US president Lyndon Johnson at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
Democratic legislators have called for the reinstatement of the Voting Rights Act with a new law named after John Lewis, the civil rights icon who died last year aged 80. They have also put forward a separate bill to expand ballot access nationwide.
But neither bill is likely to make it through the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Senate filibuster rules require most legislation to receive the backing of 60 lawmakers in the 100-member upper chamber.
Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina congressman and longtime Biden supporter, said at the weekend the president “should endorse” the idea of an exemption to the filibuster for voting rights.
Clyburn told Politico the president could “pick up the phone and tell Joe Manchin, ‘Hey, we should do a carve out,’” referring to the West Virginia senator who has been a vocal critic of progressive calls to scrap the filibuster. Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema has also said she opposes getting rid of the convention.
Psaki told reporters on Monday that Biden remained opposed to eliminating the filibuster. She added that it was up to senators — not the president — to decide whether the conventions should remain.
“The filibuster is a legislative process tool . . . but determination about making changes will be made by members of the Senate, not by the president,” she said.