US President Joe Biden has called for a historic change to Senate rules as he seeks to overhaul the country’s election laws.
In an impassioned speech, he stated his support for changes that would allow his voting reforms to be passed without the opposition Republicans’ support.
Two Republican senators’ reservations are impeding his plans, and no Republicans have backed them.
Currently, a majority of 60 percent is required in the Senate to pass most legislation.
And, with the upper chamber of Congress split 50-50 between the two parties, Mr. Biden’s sweeping election legislation is almost certain to fail unless that rule is changed.
Analysts believe that such a change is unlikely because it would require the support of every Democrat in the Senate, as well as the vice-tie-breaking president’s vote.
The bills, known as the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, were passed by the House of Representatives last year.
The former would replace the current patchwork of state-by-state voting rules with standardised, nationwide voting rules. Meanwhile, the John Lewis Act would require certain states to seek government approval before changing election regulations.
- ANALYSIS: Is this now Joe Biden’s biggest headache?
- CONTEXT: What is the filibuster and why does it matter?
“To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules in whatever way is necessary to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights,” the president said in a speech in Georgia on Tuesday.
“For the past two months, I’ve been having these private conversations with members of Congress. I’m sick of keeping quiet “He continued by slamming his fist on the lectern.
Mr. Biden described the effort to pass the legislation as a “battle for the soul of America,” adding that the Senate’s 60-vote rule, known as the filibuster, had left it “a shell of its former self.”
For much of the Senate’s history, unlimited debate was permitted, allowing opponents to prevent legislation from being passed. Proponents argue that it serves as a check on government power and forces administrations to seek consensus.
During World War One, rules were enacted that allowed a two-thirds majority to end debate, but this was rarely used and was reduced to the 60-vote rule in the 1970s.
Joe Biden is renewing his push for voting legislation, but the chances of success haven’t changed much since congressional Democrats first introduced the current package of proposals in January 2019.
The reasons should be familiar to this administration. Democrats must either gain Republican support in the Senate or change the rules to allow the Senate’s slim Democratic majority to pass legislation on its own. Neither seems likely, regardless of how many speeches Mr. Biden delivers.
Mr. Biden’s trip to Georgia could simply be an attempt to appease disgruntled members of his party’s base, who believe the president isn’t doing enough to promote what they see as the most important issue confronting the country – and their party – today. However, the prospects for success there do not appear to be promising. Some prominent voting rights activists are dismissing the Atlanta event as “too little, too late.”
Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s gubernatorial candidate and tireless advocate for Democratic reform, was also absent, citing “scheduling conflicts.”
Mr. Biden may describe the upcoming voting rights battle as a national “turning point,” but the momentum is currently shifting in a direction Democrats will not like.
Forecasts for this year’s midterm elections have heightened Democrats’ sense of urgency. Political analysts believe the party is in danger of losing control of Congress, and voting reform advocates are frustrated that the White House has not acted sooner.
Mr. Biden stated that he was “an institutionalist who was honoured to serve in the Senate” for many years, but that “the threat to our democracy is so grave” that he felt rule changes were required.
However, in 2019, Mr. Biden warned that repealing the filibuster would be “very dangerous,” pointing out that his fellow Democrats had frequently used the rule to block Republican legislation. Mr. Biden stated in 2005 that any attempt to abolish the filibuster was “an example of power arrogance.”
When Republicans controlled the Senate, former President Donald Trump called for the filibuster to be repealed, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to go for “the nuclear option,” as it is known on Capitol Hill.
Republicans have claimed that Vice President Biden’s voting legislation would impose dubious national standards on local elections.
Republican Senator Mike Capo, speaking after the president’s speech, called the two bills a “partisan, political power grab” and expressed opposition to changing Senate rules.
What do voters think?
Jazmin Kay, 24, is a Democrat from New York and the president of the youth voting advocacy group 18by.vote. She is encouraged that the president is talking about expanding voting rights, but she wants Congress to pass legislation to ensure reform.
“We’re fed up with all the red tape surrounding voting rights,” she says. “We won’t be able to have a say in our government unless we have comprehensive voting rights reform. [Among younger Americans], enthusiasm is waning.”
Ryan Doucette, an 18-year-old Ohio Republican, is the chief of staff for Gen Z GOP’s young conservatives. He warns that the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach to electoral reform is “wildly misguided” and “rooted in cookie-cutter solutions.”
“Democrats falsely claim that Republicans are systematically attempting to disenfranchise voters of colour, while some outspoken Republicans falsely claim that elections are rife with fraud,” he says. “Every community in America faces different voting rights challenges, and each of these should be addressed through sound policy tailored to the specific challenge.”
Senate Democrats intend to hold a debate on repealing the filibuster in the coming week.
But two centrist Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have said they will not support it.
Other Democrats in the Senate, including Arizona’s Mark Kelly, Montana’s Jon Tester, and Delaware’s Chris Coons, have indicated they are undecided.
Since the 2020 election, Republican-controlled states have imposed restrictions on access and verification. They claim widespread voter fraud, despite the lack of concrete evidence.