Kamala Harris Leading Voter Bill Efforts amid Border Czar Controversy

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks after ceremonially swearing in Kristen Clarke as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C, May 25, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

President Biden on Tuesday tasked President Kamala Harris with leading the administration’s efforts to pass two sweeping voter rights bills in Congress.

During a speech in Tulsa, Okla. on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Biden claimed that the “sacred right” to vote is “under assault with incredible intensity like I’ve never seen” and said he would ask Harris to lead efforts to pass H.R. 1, also called the “For the People Act,” and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“It’s simply un-American,” Biden said of the so-called “assault” on voter rights.

He claimed that 2020 saw a “tireless assault on the right to vote” in the form of restrictive laws, lawsuits, threats of intimidation and voter purges. He urged voting rights groups to begin “redoubling their efforts now to register and educate voters.”

“June should be a month of action on Capitol Hill,” Biden added.

He said that while pundits on TV may ask why he has not done more to pass H.R. 1 or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, that it is because he “only has a majority of effectively four votes in the house and a tie in the Senate with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends,” likely referring to Senators Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.).

He noted that the U.S. House passed the For the People Act earlier this year and that the Senate will take it up later this month. It passed in March by ten votes: Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson joined every Republican in voting against it.

The legislation would override hundreds of state laws governing elections, federalize control of voting and elections to an unprecedented degree and end two centuries of state power to draw congressional districts.

“I’m going to fight like heck with every tool at my disposal for its passage,” Biden said, adding that the House is also working on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“Today I’m asking Vice President Harris to help these efforts and lead them among her many other responsibilities,” he said. “With her leadership and your support we’re going to overcome again, I promise you.”

Biden’s remarks come on the same day that CNN reported that Harris’ team is trying to distance her from the U.S.-Mexico border crisis after Biden similarly appointed the vice president to lead the administration’s efforts there in March. 

At the time, Biden announced the assignment saying he had asked “because she’s the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and the countries that can help, need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border.”

However, according to CNN, Harris’s aides went into a “panic” after Biden’s announcement “out of concern that her assignment was being mischaracterized and could be politically damaging if she were linked to the border, which at the time was facing a growing number of arrivals.”

Harris has come under fire for refusing to visit the border and going 69 days without holding a press conference since Biden’s announcement. Harris and the White House have previously excused the vice president’s absence at the White House as being due to “COVID issues” or the risk of disruption of a vice-presidential visit.

CNN reports that, according to one official, Harris “appears eager for a portfolio that will allow her to achieve political victories, especially in foreign policy, an area where she is far less experienced than Biden. Instead, Republican critics and the media have portrayed her new immigration role as a border assignment, potentially opening her up to criticism for the handling of the seemingly intractable problem.”

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