Posts tagged with "Martin Luther King Jr. Day"

Michelle Obama delivers urgent message about this year’s midterm elections

January 13, 2022

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has a message for Americans ahead of the 2022 midterm elections: “We’ve got to vote like the future of our democracy depends on it.”

In a letter titled “Fight For Our Vote,” which was published on Sunday, January 9, as an ad in The New York Times, Obama and her voting rights organization, When We All Vote, called on Americans to continue engaging in democracy amid a historic attack on voting rights.

CNN reports that Obama’s letter—which comes as Congress has yet to move on voting rights legislation at the federal level—was signed by 30 other civic engagement, voting rights and voter mobilization organizations including the NAACP, Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action, Voto Latino Foundation, NextGen America, LeBron James’ More Than A Vote, and Rock the Vote.

“We stand united in our conviction to organize and turn out voters in the 2022 midterm elections, and make our democracy work for all of us,” Obama wrote in the letter.

The former FLOTUS laid out a plan of action and said, within the next year, When We All Vote and the coalition of other organizations will work to “recruit and train at least 100,000 volunteers” and “register more than a million new voters.”

Obama said the coalition will also enlist thousands of lawyers to protect American voters, work to educate Americans on how to ensure their vote is safe, and encourage at least 100,000 Americans to call on their Senators in support of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—two proposed pieces of legislation that have stalled in the Senate as a result of the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome.

Obama’s letter—published days after the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot—referenced the insurrection and the slew of voting restrictions passed at the state level across the country in its wake. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed the chamber will vote on whether to change the Senate’s legislative filibuster rules by Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 17, if Republicans block Democrats’ latest effort to advance voting rights legislation.

Citing obstacles to voting access throughout history, Obama wrote that in 2022, Americans must continue to fight for their rights.

“Generations of Americans have persevered through poll taxes, literacy tests, and laws designed to strip away their power—and they’ve done it by organizing, by protesting, and, most importantly, by overcoming the barriers in front of them in order to vote. And now, we’ve got to do the same,” Obama wrote.

Obama added: “We must give Congress no choice but to act decisively to protect the right to vote and make the ballot box more accessible for everyone.”

Research contact: @CNN

Biden to endorse changing Senate filibuster to support voting rights

January 12, 2022

President Joe Biden, in a speech delivered on Tuesday, January 11, in Atlanta, planned to directly challenge the “institution of the United States Senate” to support voting rights by backing two major pieces of legislation and the carving out of an exception to the Senate’s 60-vote requirement, reports the HuffPost.

Coming a week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Biden’s speech at the Atlanta University Center Consortium represents a follow-up to a speech he delivered last week on the first anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot—characterizing both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to ensure that the turmoil of January 6, 2021, is followed by a revival of American democracy.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Biden planned to say, according to prepared remarks distributed by the White House. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is: Where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?”

Biden, who served as a senator from 1973 to 2009, argues that abuse of the filibuster―the arcane rule that requires 60 senators’ votes for most legislation to pass—has harmed the Senate as an institution and that carving out an exception for voting rights is the best way to protect the reputation and functionality of Congress’s upper chamber.

The Senate is set to vote on both pieces of voting rights legislation this week. While all 50 Democrats are expected to support the legislation, Republicans are expected to remain unified in opposition and block consideration―as they have the previous three times Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has attempted to call up the Freedom to Vote Act.

That unified GOP opposition will almost certainly lead to a vote on whether to significantly weaken the filibuster. But it appears unlikely Democrats will be able to corral the 50 votes necessary for a rule change. Sens. Joe Manchin (West Virginia.), Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and other moderates are reluctant to change the body’s rules.

White House aides indicated that Biden’s speech points to Georgia as a reason why voting rights legislation is necessary—highlighting how the GOP-controlled state legislature passed laws making it harder to vote after Democrats won the presidential race and two Senate seats there in 2020.

The Freedom to Vote Act is a compromise version of the Democratic Party’s sweeping voting rights legislation, and it would override many of the restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans since the 2020 election and mandate early voting and same-day voter registration. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore sections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that conservatives on the Supreme Court voted to gut in 2013.

Republicans, up to and including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, had long supported extensions to the Voting Rights Act but ceased doing so after the Supreme Court ruling.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Biden plans forceful push for voting rights

December 17, 2021

The White House wants to mark the new year with a forceful push for voting rights—portraying the protection of the ballot as a battle for democracy itself. But despite a renewed emphasis from an increasingly impatient and frustrated base, prospects for legislative success still look grim, reports Politico.

West Wing aides believe that fresh federal efforts to defend the ballot and install safeguards ahead of the midterm elections are likely to be dashed by some Democrats’ resistance to changing the Senate filibuster—a reluctance that has been spearheaded for months by Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).

The White House has been considering connecting the voting rights drive with the upcoming first anniversary of the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, making the case that the most sacred tenant of America’s democracy remains under siege one year after the insurrection fueled by the election fraud lies told by former President Donald Trump.

To strongly make that case, the president and his team had been hoping to clear the legislative deck by the January 6 anniversary. But the president’s social spending bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, appears stalled for the foreseeable future in the Senate, with Manchin’s refusal to commit to the $1.75 trillion legislation seemingly certain to push the measure into early 2022.

According to Politico, Biden signaled on Wednesday, December 14, that he’d be fine with prioritizing election reform for the time being, saying: “If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it. … There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights.” But, previously, White House aides had consistently signaled that they wanted the social spending bill first and voting rights second.

That sequencing has irked some of the president’s most fervent supporters, who fear he may get neither.

“The time is now. The urgency could not be more palpable than it is now,” said the  Reverand Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and a Biden confidant, who, like others, argued that voting rights should have been the Administration’s top priority in the wake of the moves by nearly 20 Republican-led legislatures to tighten state election laws.

“An inaction at this point would lead to an inaction of Black voters. People are saying, ‘If they don’t do this, I’m not voting,’” the civil rights leader said. “People are saying they feel betrayed.”

Echoing the sentiment of a growing number of Democrats who feel that Biden has simply not placed the defense of voting rights and elections at the center of his presidency, Sharpton said activists are now targeting Martin Luther King Jr. Day  on January 18 as an unofficial deadline for at least showing some real progress on voting rights. He and other activists plan to ramp up their criticisms of Democrats—with potential threats to refrain from campaigning ahead of the midterms—if action is not taken.

“I don’t want to become too dramatic,” said Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri), “but voting rights may be the only thing we have to at least halt the trek away from democracy.”

While the full scale of what the White House is planning remains unclear, Biden is expected to deliver a speech connecting the day to the defense of the ballot, aides said.

But aides also recognize that a full-court press on voting rights—even if good politics—would be doomed to fail without a change to the filibuster. And they are skeptical that they can bring reluctant Democrats on board for such changes.

While Manchin has said he is open to reforming the chamber’s rules in a bipartisan manner, he does not support nuking the legislative filibuster.

Other Democrats are losing patience, however. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) delivered a passionate speech from the Senate floor this week pushing Democrats to act on voting rights—noting that the Senate just scrapped a 60-vote threshold to pass a debt ceiling hike. Represenhtative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina), who has been in touch with Warnock, said he believes Democrats are “in a good place with the voting rights bill,” though it’s “not the timeline that I would want.”

“I don’t want it to be constrained by trying to do it before the end of the year. I don’t know that you have to do it before the end of the year,” Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House and a close Biden ally, said in an interview. “I just want us to get a bill done that will help preserve this democracy because if we don’t, I think we’ve lost this democracy.”

Research contact: @politico