Democrats took control of Congress and White House last year and have pledged to fight a wave new state laws that make it more difficult to vote. These laws were inspired by Donald Trump's false claims about a stolen election. After a brief flurry, however, their efforts were stalled in the narrowly divided Senate where they lack the 60 votes necessary to defeat a Republican filibuster.
Biden's visit to Washington is part of a concerted effort made by Senate Democrats, the White House, and others to revive the project and gain support for the modification of filibuster rules in order to advance legislation.
Republicans decry it all as a power grab.
There are also key issues among Senate Democrats. Moderate senators. Both Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Kyrsten Silena from Arizona said that they opposed the elimination of the Senate's 60 vote threshold in order to defeat a filibuster.
They claim such a change would permit for dramatic reversals of federal policy if the Senate loses party control. The Democrats would be back in trouble if they were in the minority because they would no longer be able to block legislation.
Biden delivered a fiery speech Tuesday in Atlanta. He compared opponents to the legislation with racist historical figures, and told lawmakers that they would be "judged on history."
On Thursday, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer stated on the floor that "If the right of vote is the cornerstone our democracy, then why can we in good conscience allow a situation where the Republican Party can debate voter suppression laws at state level and pass them with only a simple majority vote but not the United States Senate?"
To push the legislation forward, Democrats have changed their strategy. To bypass the Republican filibuster, they will be using existing Senate rules to push the legislation forward. They want to create a public debate that can last for days, echoing the civil rights battles that led to some famous filibusters in Senate History.
The new approach does not address the core problem Democrats face. They do not have the support of the Republicans to pass the election legislation on a bipartisan basis. However, they also lack the support of all 50 Democrats to change the Senate rules to allow them to pass.
Nearly all Republicans oppose the legislation. They view it as federal overreach and would limit states' ability to hold their own elections. They also pointed out that Trump opposed the changes to the filibuster when he was president.
"Nobody in the country is buying that fake hysteria that democracy would die unless democrats take total control," said Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader.
The Democratic package of voting legislation and ethics legislation would bring about the largest overhaul of U.S. election systems in a generation. It would remove all obstacles to voting that were enacted for the sake of election security, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and limit partisan influence on the drawing of congressional district lines. This package would establish national standards for election that will override state-level GOP laws. It would also allow the Justice Department to re-authorize its ability to enforce election laws in states that have a history discrimination.
The legislation is a political necessity for both Democrats and Biden. It would be a breach of a key campaign promise to Black voters that helped them win control of Congress and the White House. This would happen just before the midterm elections, when the Democratic majority will be very slim. This would be Biden's second major setback in a month. It comes after Manchin stopped work on President Obama's $2 trillion package for social and environmental initiatives just before Christmas.
Schumer originally set Jan. 17 as Martin Luther King Jr. Day to give lawmakers time to pass voting legislation or revise the filibuster rules. This vote could still take place.
Their new strategy uses a procedural shortcut so they can actually hold a bill debate without being stopped by a filibuster. This is a tactic that Republicans have used four times to stop the debate in recent months.
It works like this: On Thursday, the House amended a bill unrelated to that which had been approved by both chambers of Congress. This combined two separate voting bills for Democrats into one. The Senate can now debate the bill with a simple majority and bypass a filibuster, after the House passed it. However, the Senate Republicans could still block them from holding a final voting.
Schumer stated that Democrats plan to continue to examine changes to the filibuster after the debate over the bill.
Manchin, who was a key contributor to the writing of Democratic voting legislation, said Tuesday that any changes needed to be made with significant Republican buy-in, even though there aren’t any Republican senators ready to sign on.
This confused South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn. Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in Congress and a senior member the Congressional Black Caucus.
Clyburn challenged the wisdom of seeking bipartisanship by pointing out that newly freed slaves were granted the right to vote on a party-line basis.
Clyburn stated that Manchin seemed to be supporting a filibuster. "That is, to us, very disconcerting."