Biden to make voting-rights pitch to Senate Democrats, McConnell on defensive

Written by on January 12, 2022

January 12, 2022

By Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Thursday will make a personal plea to U.S. Senate Democrats to unite to change the chamber’s rules to pass voting-rights reform, a day after the Senate’s top Republican launched a blistering attack on the initiative.

Passions are high in Washington as former President Donald Trump’s false claims that his 2020 election defeat was the result of fraud inspire a wave of new restrictions on voting in Republican-controlled states.

Democrats see their twin voting rights bills as a last chance to counter that wave ahead of the Nov. 8 elections, when they run the risk of losing their narrow majorities in at least one chamber of Congress.

Biden on Tuesday urged the Senate to scrap or rewrite the chamber’s “filibuster” rules to overcome Republican opposition. Those rules currently require 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation and have hamstring Democrats, who hold just 50 seats. Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote gives them the majority.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell shot back in a Wednesday Senate speech, calling Biden’s speech a “rant” that “was incoherent, incorrect and beneath his office.”

Democrats are thought to lack the votes to pass the rule change Biden wants as two of their members object to scrapping the filibuster, warning that doing so could lead to whipsaw policy changes every time the balance of power shifts in Congress.

A White House official said Biden on Thursday will meet with Senate Democrats “to discuss the urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections against un-American attacks based on the Big Lie, and to again underline that doing so requires changing the rules of the Senate.”

The “Big Lie” is a reference to Trump’s false claims about widespread fraud causing his election defeat.


Biden on Tuesday called many Republicans cowardly and threw his support behind changing the rules to pass the legislation.

McConnell’s 50 Senate Republicans have united against the Democrats’ voting rights bills, forcing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to try to line up all 48 Democrats and two independents needed to revise the Senate’s filibuster procedure.

But conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and possibly a few others, have not yet signed on.

For at least a decade, worries about atrophy in the Senate have led to calls for revising or scrapping the filibuster, which allows a minority of senators to block bills.

In 2013 Democrats, fed up with then-President Barack Obama’s nominees languishing amid Republican filibusters, scrapped the 60-vote majority needed to confirm most federal judges and administration appointees. Four years later, Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, clearing the way for Trump to install three conservative justices during his presidency.

Biden had previously opposed changing the filibuster rule but more recently has argued that voting rights reforms were urgently needed even if it meant weakening that procedure.

Democrats, after long pushing voting rights legislation, are trying to bring this issue to a head, linking it to a federal holiday honoring civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.

They also feel pressured to notch a win on voting rights with the midterm congressional primary season starting in March.

Since Trump’s defeat, Republican lawmakers in 19 states have passed dozens of laws making it harder to vote. Critics say these measures target minorities, who vote in greater proportions for Democrats.

Biden wants to build public support for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bills would make Election Day a holiday, expand access to mail-in voting and strengthen U.S. Justice Department oversight of local election jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.

The bills, approved by the House of Representatives, have languished in the divided Senate under united opposition from Republicans, who argue they would impose questionable national standards on local elections.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone, Franklin Paul and Aurora Ellis)

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