Today, President Biden and Vice President Harris responded to a year of advocacy, including thousands of letters to members of Congress, hundreds of activist arrests, and countless calls to deliver on federal voting rights in a speech in Atlanta, Georgia.
LWV CEO Virginia Kase Solomón attended the speech alongside several coalition partners – though, notably, many Georgia activists chose not to attend because of the Biden administration’s failure to take meaningful action thus far. Sharing the concern that Biden and Harris commit to action over words, we paid close attention to the promises of today’s speech.
Here are a few takeaways:
1. A Stand Was Taken on the Filibuster
After a year of many words but minimal action, our most important question was whether the Biden administration would commit to meaningful change to protect the freedom to vote. They did so by making history and calling for the end of the filibuster rule, which has long obstructed voting rights protections.
"The filibuster has been weaponized and abused,” President Biden stated. “To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of Senators from blocking action on voting rights.”
LWV, along with coalition partners and activists across the nation, spent much of 2021 demanding that America "fix or nix” the filibuster. A relic of the Jim Crow era, the filibuster has historically been used to preserve segregation and block civil rights. In the past year, it has prevented the passage of numerous voting rights bills, such as the For the People Act, Freedom to Vote Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (JLVRAA).
Biden's new resolution is a testament to the activism of the American people. It is their work that pushed him to call for this radical change. We will now watch to see whether the Senate meets Biden in his commitment to voting rights.
2. The Connection to Racial Justice Was Acknowledged
Today's speeches rightly referenced the disproportionate impact that anti-voter laws have on communities of color.
Biden and Harris alluded to civil rights work several times throughout their speeches, which we were glad to see. Speaking in what he referred to as "the cradle of civil rights,” President Biden referenced the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, citing voter suppression as "Jim Crow 2.0.”
This citation is not an exaggeration. As was confirmed by a recent study from the Brennan Center, measures designed to limit voting, such as restrictions to mail-in and early voting, polling place closures, and strict voter ID laws make it significantly more difficult for Black and brown Americans to vote, as opposed to their white neighbors. In doing so, they silence countless communities based on race and inflate the power of the white electorate over their peers.
We were glad to see the Biden administration acknowledge the ways in which democratic justice is racial justice.
3. Bipartisanship Was Called For
In a time of great contention and little consensus across the political aisle, the Biden administration made a point of calling Republicans into the fold.
“I make an appeal to my Republican colleagues...restore the bipartisan tradition of voting rights.” Citing Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Bush (junior and senior), President Biden asked Republican lawmakers to follow them in prioritizing the freedom to vote over party politics.
His appeal reflects the fact that many pro-voter bills, like the JLVRAA and the Freedom to Vote Act, have strong bipartisan support. The JLVRAA is supported by seven out of ten voters, including 60 percent of independents and half of Republicans.
“Every Senator, Democrat, Republican, and Independent must declare where they stand, not just for the moment but for the ages. Will you stand against voter suppression?” he asked. "Will you stand with democracy?”
One of LWV's strongest tenets is that the freedom to vote is not a partisan issue; it is a right promised to every American, regardless of affiliation, background, race, sex, or any other factor. We commend President Biden for acknowledging this and calling all Americans to action.
Speaking to the crowd, Vice President Harris warned Americans against inaction. “There is a danger of adjusting to [anti-voter] laws as though they are normal. A danger of being complacent, complicit...[i]f we stand idly by, our entire nation will pay the price for generations to come.”
We must not stand idly by. Let your representatives know that they must pass federal voting legislation NOW. In doing so, you will help us protect what Vice President Harris rightly called “our most fundamental freedom."