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Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) question U.S. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on July 18, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

After Biden Says We Must 'Act Swiftly' on Voting Rights, Progressives Respond: 'Abolish the Filibuster'

"It's simple," said Rep. Barbara Lee. "It's either uphold the filibuster or uphold our democracy."

Kenny Stancil

The chorus of progressive voices calling for the elimination of the U.S. Senate's 60-vote filibuster rule grew louder on Wednesday after President Joe Biden said that "we need the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act."

"We're witnessing an all-out assault on our democracy—and we need to act swiftly to protect the sacred right to vote," the president tweeted on Wednesday morning.

Within hours, numerous progressive lawmakers—including Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.)—responded to Biden's call to protect U.S. democracy by demanding, yet again, that Senate Democrats "abolish the filibuster."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday announced that the chamber will vote on S. 1, the For the People Act, later this month.

Reforming or eliminating the filibuster is, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others have made clear, a prerequisite to passing the voting rights and campaign finance reform bill that progressives argue is necessary to protect U.S. democracy in the face of the GOP's nationwide assault on the franchise and the rule of law. Schumer, however, has not yet committed to doing so.

Pressure is mounting on Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), two of the party's most conservative lawmakers, both of whom have voiced opposition to filibuster reform. According to the Washington Post, Biden on Tuesday "accused a pair of unnamed senators of aligning too closely with Republicans and stalling efforts to pass sweeping voting standards." 

Sinema, for her part, doubled down on her opposition to getting rid of the filibuster on Wednesday. 

Schumer's announcement about this month's vote on S. 1, which is expected to happen between June 21 and June 25, came immediately after Senate Republicans employed the legislative filibuster to block the establishment of an independent commission to probe the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters.

According to progressives, the near-unanimous opposition of Senate Republicans to an investigation of the deadly insurrection provided some of the strongest evidence yet of the GOP's growing antagonism to democracy, which more than 100 scholars on Tuesday said is "now at risk" due to right-wing attacks.

Although the January 6 coup attempt failed—and despite a total lack of evidence of electoral fraud last November—Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him has fueled a wave voter suppression bills nationwide.

As of May 14, Republican lawmakers in 49 states had introduced at least 389 bills that would either make it harder for millions of Americans, especially Democratic-leaning constituencies, to vote, or empower right-wing state legislatures to overturn election results they don't like, according to the Brennan Center for Justice's latest tally.

The Brennan Center noted that 22 laws restricting ballot access have been passed by GOP-controlled legislatures and signed into law by governors in 14 states this year, and 61 bills are currently moving through 18 state legislatures.

Voting rights advocates say that Senate Democrats can "thwart virtually every single one" of the GOP's voter suppression bills by passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Without the support of a single Republican, House Democrats passed H.R. 1, the lower chamber's version of the For the People Act, in March.

Soon after, progressives told Senate Democrats to "end the filibuster and pass" S. 1., which would increase ballot access nationwide by implementing automatic voter registration, limit states' ability to purge voters from the rolls, require states to adopt independent redistricting commissions, set up a publicly financed small-dollar donation matching system for candidates who reject high-dollar contributions, and enact other democratic reforms.

Because passing the For the People Act depends on scrapping the filibuster, progressives' message remained the same on Wednesday.

"It's simple," tweeted Lee. "It's either uphold the filibuster or uphold our democracy."


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