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Activists hold a banner as they march to a voting rights rally in Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Square on October 5, 2021. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'Pressure Works': Senate Told to Act on Voting Rights Bills After Biden Backs Filibuster Exception

"Every senator should have to go on the record and decide whether to stand with the Jim Crow filibuster or our freedom to vote."

Jessica Corbett

Progressive activists and lawmakers frustrated by GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts celebrated on Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden clearly signaled that he supports making an exception to the Senate filibuster to pass federal voting rights legislation.

"The Senate should heed President Biden's call and act immediately in the new year to reform the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act before it's too late."

"After months of pressure from activists around the country, including hundreds of thousands of Stand Up America members, President Biden has finally endorsed reforming the filibuster to protect our freedom to vote," said Sean Eldridge, president and founder of the progressive advocacy group Stand Up America, in a statement about Biden's comments in a Wednesday interview with ABC News' David Muir.

"The Senate should heed President Biden's call and act immediately in the new year to reform the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act before it's too late," Eldridge asserted.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has passed the measure named for Lewis, but the bill—which would restore protections from the Voting Rights Act of 1965—was blocked by Senate Republicans.

House Democrats also approved the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill blocked by the Senate GOP—which led to the Freedom to Vote Act, compromise legislation that Republicans in the upper chamber have similarly obstructed.

"The House has acted, the president has weighed in, and now the Senate must act," said Eldridge. "Every senator should have to go on the record and decide whether to stand with the Jim Crow filibuster or our freedom to vote."

As GOP state lawmakers this year have launched what's been described as a "tidal wave of restrictive voting legislation," Biden and Senate Democrats have faced mounting pressure to prioritize voting rights—including a new call from over 800 faith leaders—and do whatever it takes to get related bills through Congress, including reforming or abolishing the filibuster.

"The House has acted, the president has weighed in, and now the Senate must act."

Noting such calls for congressional action to safeguard what one recent analysis dubbed the United States' "backsliding" democracy, Muir asked Biden if he supports fundamental changes to the Senate rules to advance voting rights legislation.

"Yes," Biden responded. Asked to explain, he added: "That means whatever it takes. Change the Senate rules to accommodate major pieces of legislation without requiring 60 votes."

"The only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster," Biden said. "I support making an exception on voting rights for the filibuster."

Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman—who authored the book Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in Americacalled Biden's comments to Muir a "BFD."

Some political observers drew comparisons to Biden's remarks during a televised October town hall with CNN's Anderson Cooper. The president had said that "we're going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster." When Cooper asked whether he would support reforms to pass voting rights legislation, the president replied, "And maybe more."

Advocates of voting rights legislation not only welcomed the president's new interview but also vowed to keep up the pressure so Senate Democrats get the bills to Biden's desk.

"Y'all this is real," said Ezra Levin, co-founder and co-executive director of Indivisible. "A showdown on [the] filibuster is coming in January. By all means take a break and recharge now, but then get ready to make some noise in the first weeks of the year."

As Stand Up America put it in a tweet: "Pressure works. Let's keep it up."


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