“We are going to get this bill prepared and hopefully announce what it is on Aug 6 — a bill that can go to the Senate,” said Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), noting that the bill could be introduced on the anniversary of the signing of the landmark 1965 legislation. A vote would likely occur later, he said.
“Let’s not get ourselves too concerned about a date,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the potential timing for a vote. “When it is ready is when we’ll call members back.”
The planned introduction comes as Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are set to meet with President Joe Biden later Friday on voting rights legislation. Democrats’ bigger elections and ethics measure is stuck thanks to opposition from Senate Republicans and resistance from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to some of its provisions, leaving Democrats frustrated on the path forward.
In the meantime, they’ve been ramping up their advocacy: Three House Democrats have been arrested at Hart Senate Office Building in the last three weeks in protests over voting rights.
“This is of the highest priority for us – the sanctity of the vote, the basis of our democracy,” Pelosi said.
Schumer and Pelosi are heading to the White House days after the Senate leader huddled with several key Democrats about voting rights — including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who remains the lone member of the caucus to not get behind the party’s massive elections overhaul.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the chair of the Senate Rules Committee who was also at that Wednesday meeting, said that senators were “very close to an agreement” on a compromise.
“I think we’ve made actual progress,” Klobuchar said during a press conference on Thursday. “I think if we were just going to say ‘nope, we can’t do this because of Senate rules,’ we wouldn’t keep going.”
Klobuchar did not delve into specifics about the new package, but ticked off provisions on gerrymandering, voting by mail and automatic registration that could be included in a revised approach.
But it also means that the two Democratic-controlled chambers of Congress are progressing on separate tracks. The House already passed the bigger elections bill in early March. Their previous version of the Lewis bill would recreate a requirement that certain states get election law changes pre-approved by either the Department of Justice or a D.C.-based federal court before going into effect.
The renewed push on the Hill comes as some voting rights activists become increasingly discouraged with — or angry at — the perceived lack of action in Washington.
“I’m a very positive person, but I’m also pragmatic and realistic at the end of the day,” Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights icon, said in an interview earlier in the week. “So my positive hope would be 60 or 70 percent” chance that something gets signed into law. “My realistic might be a little bit better than 50 percent.”
King and other civil rights leaders met with a handful of legislators on Capitol Hill earlier in the week, including Schumer and Manchin.
He said the West Virginian told them that he was “working with a number of colleagues on both sides of the aisle” and that he thought there could be a core group of supporters for a package centered around the Lewis bill, which Manchin previously said he supports.
King said that he and Manchin discussed a carve-out to a filibuster for voting rights legislation. “He’s committed to getting 60 votes at this time,” King said. “Now, if that does not work, it’s not clear as to what his next position is going to be, for me.”
Others say the White House needs to be more involved in the fight as well. “I want to see him speak boldly about doing away with the filibuster — to removing it as an obstacle, however he believes that should be done,” said Barbara Arnwine, the founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition. “Until he says that, then we have to really question the level of commitment.”
“Because either you have the extra votes to get to 60, or you remove the filibuster. There is no in between,” she continued. Arnwine and other activists were arrested earlier this week while protesting over voting rights outside one of Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema’s Arizona offices.
And several groups are pushing for Biden to hold more meetings to hear directly from activists. The group of Texas lawmakers who fled the state earlier this month are still agitating for a meeting with Biden. They met with Vice President Kamala Harris earlier in the month.
Texas lawmakers say that time is running short — both with the planned Senate recess fast approaching, and the end of the special session they blocked coming up next week.
Meanwhile, prominent AAPI community members are urging the White House to include them in conversations, saying they’ve been largely excluded from the discussion around voting rights.
“We are largely an afterthought in this process. We’ve gotten very little recognition from this White House that we delivered this election,” said AAPI Victory Fund president Varun Nikore, adding that his community feels targeted by the new Republican-led election laws in states after record turnout in 2020. Nikore said that AAPI community leaders were recently invited to a call with the Domestic Policy Council and Harris’ office, but that he would like to see AAPI leaders meet with Biden and Harris directly to discuss voting rights.
“It has been a Black issue for a very, very long time, historically, and there’s no reason why the White House shouldn’t have met with Black leaders,” he said. “But given the results of the last election and the new trends, the fact that AAPIs are now the new voting bloc in town, they need to spread the love a little bit more and ensure they’re engaging with a more diverse set of groups than they have been.”
Heather Caygle contributed to this report.