Jake Johnson Politics Rights Voting

Biden Under Fire for Going Quiet on Voting Rights

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said the president has "been AWOL on voting rights and ending the filibuster, which are critical to everything else America must achieve."

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said the president has “been AWOL on voting rights and ending the filibuster, which are critical to everything else America must achieve.”

Image of Joe Biden talking
Joe Biden speaks at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention hosted by the AFL-CIO at the Prairie Meadows Hotel in Altoona, Iowa. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams

With Senate Republicans expected to successfully filibuster the For the People Act on Tuesday, progressive activists, lawmakers, and some prominent figures within the Democratic mainstream are criticizing President Joe Biden for failing to use his bully pulpit to publicly fight for the popular bill as the GOP assault on ballot access intensifies nationwide.

“The For the People Act will be voted on today. Where’s Biden?” asked Robert Reich, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who served as Labor Secretary in the Clinton administration.

“Why isn’t he making the case to the American people? Why isn’t he strong-arming Manchin? Why isn’t he on the Hill buttonholing senators? The most important voting rights bill in 56 years. His silence is breathtaking,” Reich continued. “I like Biden but he’s been AWOL on voting rights and ending the filibuster, which are critical to everything else America must achieve.”

In late March, the president condemned Republican-led voter suppression efforts in Georgia and dozens of other states as “pernicious” and promised to “do everything in [his] power” to protect the franchise.

But while the White House insists that protecting voting rights remains at the top of Biden’s agenda, progressives say the president has been missing in action as GOP attacks on voting rights continue to advance in state legislatures across the country. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans have introduced at least 389 voter suppression bills in 48 states since the beginning of the year, and 22 have become law.

“Is saving democracy a priority for this administration or not?” Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, wrote in a series of tweets on Monday. “Right-wing zealots are systematically dismantling our democratic institutions. I don’t want to see some tepid public statement.”

Pointing to the aggressive public messaging that past presidents used to advance their legislative priorities, Levin wrote: “I hope Joe Biden cares about saving our democracy as much as Bill Clinton cared about NAFTA. As much Barack Obama cared about the Affordable Care Act. As much as every Republican president cares about tax cuts for their donors.”

“Democracy is under threat,” Levin added. “Fascism is rising. Time is running out. It’s time for the president to get off the sidelines and into the game, or we’re all going to lose.”

Asked during a Monday briefing to specify what Biden has done in recent weeks to bolster the Senate’s chances of passing a voting rights bill to counter GOP-led suppression attempts, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the president has “had conversations, obviously, with members about supporting this legislation, including Senator [Joe] Manchin,” the only member of the Senate Democratic caucus who has refused to co-sponsor the For the People Act.

“As it relates to the filibuster: You know, I don’t think you have to take it from us,” Psaki added. “That would be Congress moving forward or making a decision. If the vote is unsuccessful tomorrow, it will … we suspect it will prompt a new conversation about the path forward, and we’ll see where that goes.”

Psaki’s remarks came as more than 480 Democratic state legislators from all 50 states signed on to a letter (pdf) pleading for federal action to shield voting rights, warning: “We are out of options. We need your help.”

“The world is watching,” reads the letter, which was addressed to Democratic and Republican congressional leaders. “American democracy is in the balance. When future generations judge whether we rose to this pivotal moment in history, we hope you will be counted alongside us in the fight to preserve this experiment in self-governance.”

The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday evening on a motion to proceed to debate on the For the People Act, which would establish federal standards for absentee voting, institute a national automatic voter registration system, strengthen donor disclosure requirements, and bar states from purging voter rolls.

Under current Senate rules, procedural motions are subject to the 60-vote legislative filibuster, meaning Democrats will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to advance the voting rights bill. Thus far, not one Republican has backed the For the People Act or a watered-down alternative that Manchin put forth last week.

As activists anticipate the outcome of Tuesday’s vote and gear up for nationwide demonstrations, it remains unclear how Biden intends to respond to the GOP’s likely filibuster of the For the People Act. Biden doesn’t have any voting rights-related public events or speeches scheduled ahead of or immediately after Tuesday’s vote, and the president has largely been quiet about the filibuster since he endorsed reforming the rule in mid-March.

“We need President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris talking about the threats to our democracy every single day until we pass the For the People Act to protect voting rights and get money out of politics. Period,” Indivisible tweeted Monday.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) echoed that message, writing, “Our democracy is in crisis and we need the president to act like it.”

9 comments

  1. Well done. It’s time for the the President to stand up for the people who elected him-African Americans, Latinos, and the averagw worker-for these are the people that are being targeted for voter suppressio.
    One wishes he would be as supportive to these people as he is to Israel whenever they want to go off on a killing spree. As for Kamala Harris, she is perhaps the most clueless person ever to be VP since Dan Quayle.
    My friends in California were right-she is just a Hillary Wanabe who has nothing else to offer. The most highly paid “intern”.

    1. Um, our demented right-wing President just allowed himself to be rolled by his Republican friends on the infrastructure bill. He allowed the minimum wage hike to die, despite apparently lying repeatedly on the campaign trail about supporting it. I’ve got ten bucks and a Daniel Webster cigar that says old Cracker Joe isn’t going to do what needs to be done, which is to DEMAND that the filibuster be destroyed and that the bill be passed. Biden has a past, and that past tells us what he’s not going to do.

  2. It’s pretty late in the game for Biden to show up in any meaningful way suggesting that in his heart of hearts his passion for voting rights etc carries the short flames of an opportunistic inclination rather than the roar of deep conviction and fealty to this most basic tenet of democracy. Good ole bi partisan smiling back slapper Joe is not to be counted on where -after the Gingrich Contract on (for?) America was set forth in no uncertain and wholly absolutistic partisan terms – he seems not to consciously register the sinister, absolutistic and monopolistic legislative tone and actions typical of today’s Republican party to obstruct anything serving the 99%. Credit Card Bank Delaware Joe dancing to yesterday’s tune.

  3. Biden has been AWOL on just about everything he promised during the campaign… except Keystone XL.

  4. Whatever the topic I expect next to nothing from the Democratic Party leaders. From the Republicans, I’ve come to expect total insanity. How wonderful our political system (NOT).

  5. Biden’s most proud accomplishment was doubling the American incarceration rate with his 1994 Crime bill. That was and is what he is.

    1. michael888,

      Biden takes more pride in his ability to read from the teleprompter at age 77. This is what he is. Poof!

  6. It flabbergasts me that every single narrative on this bill, 800 pages long is the do or die of our democracy. Poppycock. Nobody but the lobbyist’s know whats in it and rightfully to those who would oppose it. Shouldn’t the real conversation be, and effort, on a stand alone voting rights bill? A simple 5 page bill, one 20 years long overdue. Want really change start there. One simple bill. Filibusterer? One simple bill. The do or die democracy is already dead in the ungodly behemoth bills of the last 12 years. If your a democrat your letting them off easy and your time is short here. Do the right thing, one simple bill at a time

  7. No worries – Glenn Greenwald, the friend of white supremacy (and Scheerpost / aka fake leftists), insists there is no threat to voting rights in the USA.

    Of course, he’s just a bullshitter conning dumb lefties while actually propping up THE number one right wing mouthpiece of the day – aka Tucker Carlson, but don’t let that distract you from how heroic he seems in a certain light.

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