The White House described Biden’s Roosevelt Room meeting as a private session with a range of civil rights groups to talk about their efforts to protect voting rights. Vice President Kamala Harris, who Biden has tasked with leading the administration’s efforts on voting rights, will also participate in a Washington event with the Democratic National Committee focused on the issue.
Biden and his team have repeatedly previewed a major push on voting rights after Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping election reform bill last month. Biden told reporters last week he planned on “speaking extensively” on voting rights, along with “going on the road on this issue.”
So far, however, a major address or trip hasn’t materialized. Instead, Biden has brought in outside advocates for meetings at the White House and has consulted advisers on the best strategy for combating restrictive new laws.
At the same time, pressure has mounted on the White House and Democrats to do more to protect voting rights after a Supreme Court decision limited the ability of minorities to challenge state laws they say are discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.
The high court ruling came as several Republican-led states, encouraged by former President Donald Trump‘s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, are considering more restrictive laws and Democrats are fighting a frantic battle in courts to combat what Biden has called an “assault on democracy.”
The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against a new voting law in Georgia, and voting rights advocates have encouraged the administration to take similar steps in other states.
“Our constitutional rights are on the line because state legislatures have forced through a wave of anti-voter laws based on the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to an assault on our nation’s Capitol and one of the darkest days in the history of American Democracy,” a White House official said.
The official added that Biden is “absolutely revolted by these attempts to undermine the constitutional rights of Americans, especially people of color.”
Passing new voting legislation in Congress will almost certainly require altering filibuster rules, since Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate isn’t enough to overcome GOP opposition. Moderate Democrats have opposed major changed to the rules, making the future of new voting laws unclear. Biden has also stopped short of supporting elimination of the filibuster, but has expressed openness to making filibusters harder to execute.
The groups with whom Biden plans to on Thursday include the NAACP, National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, National Urban League, National Action Network, NCNW, Leadership Conference for Civil & Human Rights and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
In a speech at Howard University, Harris announced a $25 million expansion of the Democratic National Committee’s “I Will Vote” campaign.
“Your vote matters. Your voice matters. Your will matters and regardless of who you are, where you live, what party you belong to — your vote matters. Your vote is your power,” Harris told the audience.
She added, “We will not let anyone take away our power and that’s why we are all here together today. We’re not gonna let that happen. And so we need to fight back.”
Biden has said his efforts must go beyond simply limiting dark money in politics or making Election Day a federal holiday — two items included in the major bill blocked by Republicans last month. He said in June that Democratic efforts must expand to limit the ability of election boards to toss out results or replace officials based on ideology.
“This is about who gets to judge whether your vote counted after it’s been cast,” he said at the time, claiming Republican voting boards were attempting to throw out votes if they don’t like the results. “That’s never happened before. It’s wrong.”
He was responding to questions on June 24 following the defeat of the sweeping voting and elections bill in Congress. Biden said in his answer he would be “going around the country” to “make the case” for advancing voting rights. Later, his press secretary said he would speak more on the issue the following week.
“I don’t have any specific visits to announce for you yet, but this is going to be a fight of his presidency,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “He believes that voting is a fundamental right for the American people. He is going to use every lever at his disposal to advocate for that. You’ll hear more from him next week as well.”
Last week, however, Biden’s schedule didn’t include a public event on voting rights. Officials said scheduling conflicts — including a trip to visit families affected by the condo collapse in Florida — prevented him from delivering the formal remarks he’d previewed.
Instead, he met behind closed doors with his senior advisers and key experts to discuss “anti-voter legislation that has been proposed or recently passed by state legislatures, legislation pending before Congress, and recent actions taken by the Department of Justice to protect the right to vote.”
“We’re constantly working with leading outside groups and the private sector on what we can do together,” the official said, noting that the administration is also engaged on Capitol Hill with Democratic leadership and “a variety of members.”
The White House said in the meeting, Biden highlighted ways his administration would “ramp up engagement with the American people on voting rights.”
Speaking after meeting with families in Florida, Biden again said he planned a major push on voting rights.
“I think that it is critical that we make a distinction between voter suppression and suspension. The ability of a state legislative body to come along and vote vote to change who is declared the winner, I find to be somewhat astounding,” he said. “I’ll have much more to say about that because I plan on speaking extensively on voting rights as well as going on the road on this issue.”
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