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Demonstrators attend a rally for voting rights

Protesters rally to demand congressional action to protect voting rights on August 28, 2021. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

As Texas Guts Voting Rights, Progressives Ask: Will Biden Fight to Save US Democracy?

"President Biden, it is time to call on the Senate to end the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation before it is too late."

Jake Johnson

Final passage of a sweeping voter suppression measure in Texas on Tuesday led civil rights advocates and other progressives to redouble their calls for congressional Democrats—and President Joe Biden—to urgently approve legislation that would preserve and strengthen ballot access at the federal level.

"Right now, we have an ally on voting rights in the White House. What we need is a leader."
—Sean Eldridge, Stand Up America

"Now it's up to Congress to move quickly to pass national voting protections that will help undo the damage done to democracy in a growing list of states including Texas, Georgia, and Arizona," Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog group Accountable.US, said in a statement. "How many more Americans need to lose their right to vote before Congress acts?"

Authored by Texas Republicans and rammed through during an unprecedented special session, Senate Bill 1 includes provisions that would curtail early voting hours, ban drive-thru voting, prohibit the use of mail-in ballot drop boxes—restrictions that rights groups argue will disproportionately impact the poor, people with disabilities, and people of color.

The bill now awaits the imminent signature of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, an unabashed champion of the Texas legislature's voter suppression effort.

State lawmakers' approval of S.B. 1 along party lines on Tuesday came weeks after Texas Democrats left town in order to delay the GOP's assault on voting rights and pressure Congress and the White House to act. The House and Senate, both narrowly controlled by Democrats, are currently on recess.

As Stand Up America president Sean Eldridge lamented in a statement Tuesday, Texas Democrats' pleas for swift passage of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—both of which have cleared the House—have thus far "fallen on deaf ears" despite the nationwide implications of continued inaction.

Last month, state governments began working to redraw their 10-year congressional maps for upcoming elections—a process that Republicans could use to manipulate district boundaries and retake control of the House in the 2022 midterms.

"The passage of S.B. 1 in Texas today should be a dire alarm for lawmakers in Congress," said Eldridge. "Unless federal lawmakers pass voting legislation like the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, opponents of a free and fair democracy—like the Texas Republicans who forced this legislation into law—will win, and millions of Americans will lose their freedom to vote."

"There's no time to lose," Eldridge added. "The Senate's first act upon its return from recess must be to protect our democracy."

With voter suppression measures advancing in Texas and dozens of other Republican-led states across the country, Biden has come under growing pressure to take on a more active role in the fight to protect and expand voting rights—an effort that has run up against opposition from some conservative Democrats and the Senate's archaic 60-vote filibuster rule, which Republicans have wielded to block the For the People Act.

"There is one major category where Mr. Biden appears content to let obstruction rule: voting rights."
—Adam Jentleson

According to a survey released last month by Data For Progress, Equal Citizens, End Citizens United, and other progressive groups, 51% of U.S. voters—including 74% of Democrats, 42% of independents, and 30% of Republicans—say they would be more likely to support Biden if he is able to convince the Senate to approve the For the People Act.

As former Senate aide Adam Jentleson wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday—headlined "When Will Biden Join the Fight for Voting Rights?"—the president has thus far "passed most of his agenda with just 50 [votes], bypassing the filibuster" by making use of the budget reconciliation process.

"Yet there is one major category where Mr. Biden appears content to let obstruction rule: voting rights," Jentleson argued. "As other bills sidestep filibusters, civil rights bills are still forced to overcome them."

Jentleson outlined several ways in which the Biden White House can bolster the fight for federal voting rights legislation. One option available to the president, Jentleson noted, is to push congressional Democrats to include voting rights measures in their emerging budget reconciliation process and have Vice President Kamala Harris overrule the Senate parliamentarian if she advises that the bills run afoul of the chamber's rules.

"Senators can also simply reform the rules to ensure that civil rights bills are treated equally," Jentleson wrote. "Given the Senate's ugly history of blocking such legislation, there is ample justification for targeted filibuster reforms to ensure that civil rights bills receive majority votes."

"Of course, [Democratic] Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose ending the filibuster, and imbue bipartisanship with lofty importance," he continued. "But at the end of the day, it is up to Mr. Biden to bring home the small number of votes needed to end the tiered system that forces voting rights legislation to garner supermajorities in the Senate, while other bills sail through with just 50 votes."

Eldridge also put the onus on Biden in a tweet on Tuesday, writing: "Right now, we have an ally on voting rights in the White House. What we need is a leader."

"President Biden, it is time to call on the Senate to end the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation before it is too late," Eldridge added.

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