White House pushes back on claims Biden doing too little on voting rights

The White House on Tuesday rejected criticism from some Democrats that President Biden hasn’t focused his bully pulpit enough on voting rights ahead of a critical Senate vote on elections legislation.

“I would suggest … those words are a fight against the wrong opponent,” press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) saying Biden needed to be “a lot more vocal and a lot more out front” on the issue.

Bowman and some other progressives have ramped up their criticism of Biden ahead of a Senate vote Tuesday on a sweeping bill to overhaul federal elections, known as the For the People Act, arguing the president has not given the issue the attention it deserves. 

“The president is passionate about this issue,” Psaki said. “He has been passionate through the course of his time in public office. Again, securing a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act when, I would note, [former Sen.] Strom Thurmond [R-S.C.] chaired the committee. He’s absolutely revolted by the wave of anti-voter laws based on the same repeatedly disproven lies that led to an assault on our nation’s capital.”

Psaki pointed to the private phone calls Biden has held with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other lawmakers to discuss the need for voting rights legislation, his speech in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this month focused on attacks on voting rights, and executive orders he’s signed to bolster voter protection across the federal government.

“That’s hardly being silent. That’s hardly sitting on the backbench,” Psaki said. “And he will be standing with advocates for the foreseeable future.”

The legislation on Tuesday is guaranteed to fail to get the 60 votes needed to advance past a GOP filibuster, with Republicans united in opposition. Democrats have turned their attention to securing the support of all 50 members of their conference in hopes that it showcases how Republicans are standing in the way of voting rights.

The For the People Act would require states to offer mail-in ballots and a minimum of 15 days of early voting while calling for online and same-day voter registration. It also overhauls campaign finance rules, changes the makeup of the Federal Election Commission, imposes new ethics rules for public officials and establishes new requirements on congressional redistricting.

Biden has repeatedly spoken about voting rights as a top priority for his administration, cautioning that democracy is under attack as GOP-led legislatures enact stricter voting laws following the 2020 election. Vice President Harris is leading the administration’s efforts on protecting voting rights, though her work thus far has largely been focused on listening sessions with community leaders and state officials.

But the president has not spoken publicly about voting rights in the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote, triggering criticism from some progressives.

“The president needs to lead out front and be very vocal on this issue,” Bowman told CNN on Tuesday.

Indivisible, a grassroots progressive group, tweeted Monday that Biden and Harris should be “talking about the threats to our democracy every single day until we pass the For the People Act to protect voting rights and get money out of politics. Period.”

“The For the People Act will be voted on today. Where’s Biden? Why isn’t he making the case to the American people?” tweeted Robert Reich, a former Labor secretary under President Clinton. “Why isn’t he strong arming Manchin? Why isn’t he on the Hill buttonholing senators? The most important voting rights bill in 56 years. His silence is breathtaking.”

Tags Bill Clinton Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin
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