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Biden puts Harris in charge of efforts to protect voting rights

President BidenJoe BidenJapan to possibly ease COVID-19 restrictions before Olympics 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday China supplies millions of vaccine doses to developing nations in Asia MORE on Tuesday tasked Vice President Harris with leading his administration's efforts to protect voting rights, adding an urgent and complex issue to her growing portfolio.

Biden made the announcement during a speech in Tulsa, Okla., where he marked the 100th anniversary of a massacre in which a white mob killed hundreds of Black people and destroyed a thriving community known as Black Wall Street.

The president pointed to the systemic challenges facing Black Americans 100 years later, including threats to the right to vote as multiple states debate and pass laws that experts say will make it more difficult for minorities in particular to cast their ballot.

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"To signify the importance of our efforts, today I’m asking Vice President Harris to help these efforts and lead them among her many other responsibilities," Biden said. "With her leadership and your support, we’re going to overcome again, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work."

Biden called the challenges to voting rights in recent months a "truly unprecedented assault on our democracy." Georgia, Florida and Arizona, all competitive states in the 2020 election, have seen Republican-led legislatures drastically overhaul voting procedures. Texas is looking to pass a similar law, though Democratic lawmakers there managed to thwart its passage over the weekend.

In a subsequent statement, Harris said she would engage the public, voting rights groups, community organizations and the private sector "to help strengthen and uplift efforts on voting rights." She noted nearly 400 bills have been introduced at the state level since the 2020 election to make it more difficult for some Americans to vote.

"The work ahead of us is to make voting accessible to all American voters, and to make sure every vote is counted through a free, fair, and transparent process," Harris said. "This is the work of democracy."

Biden called on voting rights groups to redouble their efforts to register and educate voters, and he expressed hope that June would be a "month of action on Capitol Hill" as the Senate prepares to take up the For the People Act, a sweeping elections bill passed earlier this year in the House.

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"I hear all the folks on TV saying, 'Why doesn’t Biden get this done?' " he said Tuesday. "Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends."

The president appeared to be referring to Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Manchin meets with Texas lawmakers on voting rights Schumer tees up sweeping election bill for vote next week MORE (W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaManchin rebuffs progressive push for infrastructure guarantee Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks Senate to hold hearing on DC statehood bill MORE (Ariz.), two centrist Democrats who have been outspoken about their opposition to certain progressive priorities and to ending the legislative filibuster that requires a bill gets 60 votes in the Senate to pass.

While Manchin and Sinema vote with Democrats more frequently than with Republicans, they receive most of the scrutiny when Democratic priorities are unable to garner majority support within the party conference in the Senate. 

Manchin has urged his party to focus more narrowly on strengthening the 1965 Voting Rights Act rather than try to pass a more expansive bill that is unlikely to garner enough support to pass the Senate.

But several Republicans are balking at supporting even the pared-down legislation and are dismissing Democrats’ alarm bells about the state-level actions as political.