NAACP head to push senators, White House for action on voting rights

Stickers are seen at the Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Virginia is voting for governor, state house and senate races.
Greg Nash

NAACP President Derrick Johnson says he plans to step up pressure on senators and the White House to take action on voting rights legislation, which would likely warrant changes to the legislative filibuster due to opposition from Republicans.

Johnson was slated to meet with a group of senators virtually Wednesday afternoon. He told The Hill in an interview he expects to meet with White House officials as soon as Wednesday about voting rights.

“My message is simply that we’ve got to act to step up to protect democracy. Particular rules should not prevent the adoption of public policy to ensure the voting rights protections for Americans,” Johnson said ahead of his meeting with senators.

Johnson is calling on the Senate to make an exception to filibuster rules like the chamber did to approve a carve out to raise the debt ceiling with a simple majority last week.

“It is critically important that they take this matter as a priority and do what is necessary in the same manner they did to increase the debt limit last week,” Johnson said. “The full faith and credit of this country is important for our economy and … protection of voting rights is important for protection of democracy.”

Johnson’s meeting Wednesday included Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Michael Bennet (Colo.). 

The path to passing voting rights legislation is not clear, after Republicans blocked the Senate from considering two election reform bills as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act earlier this year.

President Biden has publicly called on senators to pass voting rights legislation, but has stopped short of calling for changes to the filibuster. He opened the door to supporting altering the filibuster during a CNN town hall in October but indicated he would not push for such a change until after other parts of his domestic agenda is passed.

“I think it’s absolutely critical the White House step up in this moment. We cannot as a nation participate in a conference on democracy if we are not affording and protecting democracy here in the United States,” Johnson told The Hill.

While the White House has been engaged on voting rights, Biden’s primary legislative priority has been getting his climate and social policy bill across the finish line in the Senate.

Johnson called on Biden to draw on his years of experience in the Senate to push for action on elections reform bills.

“He is skilled in the art of the senate procedure and process,” he said. “It’s not for me to instruct what he should do, it is for me to push for him to do something.”

Johnson said he has had near weekly engagements with the White House on voting bills and said he expected to speak with officials this week, “possibly as early as today.”

The White House did not respond to a request for information about plans for a meeting or participants.

“We’re going to continue to push to ensure we get public policy adopted to protect the rights of voters,” Johnson said. “There is nothing more important to the African American community than protecting the rights of our franchise.”

Updated at 3:18 p.m. 

Tags Gary Peters Jack Reed Joe Biden John Hickenlooper John Lewis Kyrsten Sinema Michael Bennet Sheldon Whitehouse

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