Biden speech unlikely to quash progressive angst
Progressives perked up after hearing President Biden call passing sweeping voting rights legislation known as the For the People Act a “national imperative” in a speech from Philadelphia.
Now they say they are awaiting his next steps on Capitol Hill.
In an address from the National Constitution Center on Tuesday, Biden delivered what Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists had been pleading with him to give for weeks: a strongly worded warning of the fragility of voting rights in America.
“I will sign it and let the whole world see it,” Biden declared about the voting rights measure.
But a number of Democrats have been disappointed that Biden hasn’t used his platform to pressure Democratic senators to end the legislative filibuster.
Without such a change, the For the People Act will not reach his desk.
Biden has not signaled an interest in pressuring Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who oppose ending the filibuster. Democrats would need all their members in the Senate to back ending the procedure to kill it.
“He did not mention the filibuster, so that’s a little disappointing,” said Vicki Miller, group leader of the Philadelphia chapter of Indivisible. She marched outside the venue with members of her organization while listening to Biden speak from her cellphone.
“If he came out strongly that the Senate needs to do filibuster reform, that would be so persuasive to Democratic senators. He knows them all,” she said.
“I’m interested to see where he goes from here. This is just a start. It needs to get a lot stronger,” Miller added.
Questions about how seriously the White House had been taking voting rights had been mounting for much of the spring and into the summer.
Gearing up for his speech, Biden had ground to make up with many on the left who had criticized the administration over what they view as insufficient attention on the issue.
One source briefed on a private discussion between White House officials and activists last week said there was an “impression” left on some progressives that the For the People Act had fallen to the back burner and that it was not an urgent matter for the administration ahead of the midterms.
Biden sought to tamp down such skepticism with his speech and warned that “we have to prepare now” for “raw and sustained election subversion” in 2022.
He also denounced false claims from former President Trump and others that massive fraud took place in last year’s elections.
“The 2020 election was the most scrutinized election ever in American history,” Biden said. “The big lie is just that: a big lie,” he added to applause.
While progressive activists who spoke to The Hill were relieved that Biden delivered a call to action on the national stage, the president’s speech is unlikely to quash their angst.
“While we appreciate the remarks and we applaud the efforts so far, we need to see the president and the vice president to use the full force of the presidential office to see the For the People Act across the finish line,” said Jana Morgan, who directs the progressive network Declaration for American Democracy.
The Rev. Al Sharpton told The Associated Press that he and the president chatted after he spoke. “I said to him I thought it was a good speech. I was very happy to hear him bring up race. But we’re still waiting on the filibuster,” the civil rights leader told the outlet.
“He told me: ‘We’re still working on our position on that.’ He was noncommittal,” Sharpton added.
One of Biden closest confidants, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), told Politico over the weekend that the president could easily call Manchin and tell him, “Hey, we should do a carveout,” referencing a way to reform the rule.
Texas Democratic lawmakers who left their state for Washington, D.C., to prevent the state legislature from passing a restrictive voting measure echoed Clyburn’s message. They are expected to meet with Manchin directly as well as Vice President Harris.
“We need to hear from the Oval Office, from the president, from the vice president, who he’s assigned to work on this, that nothing can stand in the way,” Morgan said.
“It’s great to hear him call it a ‘national imperative,’ and now we want to see him turn those words into actions by working with Senate Democrats to do whatever is necessary to get this bill to his desk,” Morgan added.