Liberal groups turn up heat on Biden to press for ending filibuster on voting bill

Liberal activist groups and the brother of the late Rep. John Lewis on Thursday ramped up the heat on President Biden to push Senate Democrats to end the filibuster to pass a bill that would block voting changes enacted by Republican state legislatures.

Their comments reflected growing frustration on the left with Mr. Biden as the Senate prepares to take up the voting-rights measure next month.

“We need you to lead on voting rights,” Ben Jealous, president and CEO of People for the American Way, said of Mr. Biden.  “With our democracy at risk, we need more from you. We need actions that match the urgency of your words. We need you to call on the Senate to end the filibuster.”  

Mr. Biden has supported the voting bill but he has not backed undoing the filibuster. He has said eliminating the Senate procedure that allows the party in the minority to block bills would lead to “chaos” in the chamber.

Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, also expressed frustration with Mr. Biden.

“We need him to be here with us. He’s not right now,” Mr. Levin said.  “This week, when the Democrats tried to bring it up to get a vote to save our democracy, where was President Biden? He’s on the sidelines. We are going to lose this fight unless he gets on our side and gets into the game.”

The groups submitted a petition with 400,000 signatures calling on Mr. Biden to push moderate senators such as Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to undo the filibuster, though only to pass the voting bill. Among other things, the proposal would institute national elections standards requiring voting by mail to be made available as an option and blocking the Republican state voting laws.

Henry Grant Lewis, the brother of the late congressman and civil rights activist, appealed to Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema.

“My late brother used to tell me — there are times in our lives when our conscience is gonna be put on display,” Mr. Lewis said. 

Republicans say the state laws, including strengthening voter ID requirements, are needed to prevent elections fraud. But Democrats and civil rights groups say they disproportionately make it more difficult for minorities who tend to support the party’s candidates to be able to vote.

The activist groups promised to protest at the White House, the homes and town hall meetings of holdout Democratic senators, or even those senators who are not publicly calling for an end to the filibuster.

“We’re going to meet them at their houses. We’re going to meet them out in the streets. You won’t be in DC, without recognizing or hearing from the people,” said Ría Thompson-Washington, senior manager for voting rights and democracy at the Center for Popular Democracy.  “It’s hot out here right now, but watch how much hotter it gets when we keep turning up the heat.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has promised the bill will be the first piece of business when senators return from summer recess on Sept. 13.

Senate Republicans used the filibuster in June to block the Democrats’ original sweeping voting bill, which would have allowed voters to sign a sworn statement attesting to their identity instead of showing ID.

The petition to the White House stopped short of entirely ending the filibuster, limiting it to passing the voting bill. However, ending the filibuster for the voting bill would be a step toward getting rid of the rule to pass a number of liberal goals. 

“The filibuster stands in the way of DC statehood. We need the president for leverage,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, District of Columbia Democrat, said.


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