Biden to give Senate Democrats voting rights argument, McConnell on the defensive

WASHINGTON, Jan.12 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will make a personal appeal on Thursday to Democrats in the US Senate to unite to change house rules to pass voting rights reform, a day after that the Senate’s top Republican launched a meteoric attack on the initiative.

Passions are high in Washington as former President Donald Trump’s false claims that his 2020 electoral defeat was the result of fraud inspire a wave of new restrictions on voting in Republican-controlled states.

Democrats see their twin voting rights bills as a last chance to counter this wave ahead of the Nov. 8 election, when they run the risk of losing their narrow majorities in at least one chamber of Congress.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday presented a strategy to secure debate in the Senate after three separate attempts last year were thwarted by Republicans.

As part of the plan, outlined in a note from Schumer to fellow Democrats that was seen by Reuters, the House of Representatives will soon repackage and pass the two election-related bills into one and send it to the Senate in the part of a special procedure preventing the Republicans from blocking the debate.

“We will finally have the opportunity to debate the voting rights legislation – which Republicans have so far denied,” Schumer wrote in the note.

But if Republicans remain united in opposition, even this bill will only pass if all Democrats agree to change the filibuster, he said.

Biden on Tuesday urged the Senate to remove or rewrite the chamber’s “filibuster” rules to overcome Republican opposition. Those rules currently require 60 of 100 senators to agree on most laws and have hamstring Democrats, who hold just 50 seats. Vice President Kamala Harris’ decisive vote gives them the majority.

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hit back in a Senate speech Wednesday, calling Biden’s speech a “rant” that “was inconsistent, incorrect and unworthy of his office.”

Democrats are believed to lack the votes to pass Biden’s desired rule change as two of their members oppose the removal of the filibuster, warning it could result in policy changes every time that the balance of power change in Congress.

A White House official said Biden would meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday “to discuss the urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections against anti-US attacks based on the big lie, and to re-emphasize that requires changing the rules of the Senate. ”

US President Joe Biden visits a neighborhood in Louisville, Colorado, United States, January 7, 2022. REUTERS / Evelyn Hockstein

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The “Big Lie” is a reference to Trump’s false claims about the widespread fraud that caused his electoral defeat.


Biden on Tuesday called many Republicans cowards and supported changing the rules to pass the legislation.

McConnell’s 50 Senate Republicans united against the Democrats’ voting rights bills, forcing Schumer to try to line up the 48 Democrats and the two independents needed to overhaul the Senate filibuster procedure.

But conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and perhaps a few others, have yet to sign.

For at least a decade, concerns about the atrophy of the Senate have led to calls for the revision or removal of the filibuster, which allows a minority of senators to block bills.

In 2013, Democrats, tired of President Barack Obama’s candidates languishing amid Republican obstruction, removed the 60-vote majority needed to confirm most federal judges and administration appointees. Four years later, Republicans ended the filibustering of Supreme Court appointments, clearing the way for Trump to install three Tory justices during his presidency.

Biden had previously opposed changing the filibuster rule, but recently argued that voting rights reforms were urgently needed, even if it meant weakening that process.

Democrats, after long pushing for voting rights legislation, are trying to bring this issue to the fore, tying it to a federal holiday honoring civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.

They also feel compelled to clinch a victory over voting rights with the mid-term Congressional primary season starting in March.

Since Trump’s defeat, Republican lawmakers in 19 states have passed dozens of laws making voting more difficult. Critics say the measures target minorities, who vote in greater proportions for Democrats.

Biden wants to build public support for the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis’s Advancement of Voting Rights Act. The bills would make Election Day a public holiday, expand access to postal voting, and strengthen the United States Department of Justice’s oversight of local electoral jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.

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Reporting by Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone, Franklin Paul and Aurora Ellis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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