US President Joe Biden on Tuesday took a major political gamble in calling for an end to the US Senate’s supermajority rule so that Democrats can override Republican opposition to voting rights reforms that he called crucial to saving US democracy.
Speaking in Atlanta, Georgia, the cradle of the civil rights movement, Biden — who declared the Capitol riot by supporters of former US president Donald Trump last year an “attempted coup” — said “this is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”
He challenged Democrats holding a razor-thin majority in the Senate to stand up for two bills that would expand access to polls and prevent practices that he said are being used to suppress black and other Democratic-
“Each one of the members of the Senate will be judged by history for where they stood before the vote and after the vote. There’s no escape,” the president said.
The 50 Democrats in the Senate support the two bills — but under current rules 60 votes are needed to get them passed.
Urging his party to “find a way,” Biden said that if Republicans do not cooperate then the supermajority rule, called the filibuster, should be tossed out.
“I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed, including getting rid of the filibuster,” he said.
It is a high-risk, high-gain issue for Biden, who is infuriating Republicans, while also trying to balance the more conservative wing of his party with the increasingly frustrated black community.
Coming off a powerful speech last week to mark the Jan. 6 anniversary of an attempt by Trump’s supporters to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Biden described the push to enshrine greater voter protections as “a turning point.”
Following Trump’s bid to reverse his election defeat in 2020, Republicans in state legislatures had passed local laws “designed to suppress your vote, to subvert our elections,” he said.
Throwing down the gauntlet to the Senate, Biden said: “History has never been kind to those who sided with voter suppression over voter rights.”
“I ask every elected official in America: how do you want to be remembered?” he said
Democrats accuse Republican state legislatures of enacting a spate of local laws deliberately restricting the voting rights of minorities, and curtailing early voting and mail-in voting in an effort to suppress Democratic support.
However, Republicans describe the Democrats’ Senate push as an attempt to manipulate the election landscape by switching power to federal authorities.
They are unanimous in opposing the two bills, which US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said could come up for a vote as early as yesterday.
To break that impasse, Biden is endorsing a rarely used maneuver circumventing the filibuster just for this vote. This would let Democrats pass the two voting rights laws without any Republican support.
The problem for Biden is that this so-called “nuclear option” is seen as a declaration of war by Republicans, who said it would open the floodgates to lifting the filibuster on all sorts of issues and end any semblance of bipartisanship in the chamber.
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