Senate

Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault

Getty Images

Top liberal groups, strategists and organizers are shifting away from their core policy areas to focus on the need for the Senate to approve sweeping voter rights legislation, underscoring the deep fears in progressive America that state Republicans will lock in restrictions without federal action.

The fright has led progressives to redirect much of their manpower on democracy reform efforts nearly full-time.

Many are fervent that they need the For the People Act to pass in order to have a shot at almost anything else.

“We took a look at the landscape and thought nothing we do in 2022 will matter if people can’t vote and if they aren’t motivated to vote,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a group closely aligned with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) vision for the party.

Since March, the PCCC and P Street, an affiliated liberal organization, have primarily lobbied around passing the For the People Act and President Biden’s Build Back Better plan instead of its core policies of universal health care, student debt forgiveness and Wall Street reform.

“We’ve been intensely focused on passing democracy protection legislation and getting trillions of dollars of economic investment across the finish line,” said Green.

“Those two things will impact the entire landscape we all are playing on,” he added.

The PCCC is far from alone.

National networks from the AFL-CIO and Communications Workers of America to Greenpeace now include a voting rights element to their work. 

On Monday, several top environmental groups penned a letter arguing that “we can’t make the environmental progress our country needs without a thriving democracy.”

The note was signed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund Action, Clean Air Moms Action and other ordinarily climate-centric groups. 

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lead sponsor of the Senate legislation, will convene a Zoom call on Monday evening with Our Revolution, a network that supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) past presidential campaigns, to discuss strategy, according to an invitation obtained by The Hill.

Merkley has collaborated with the organization’s leaders since before the November election.

Our Revolution now devotes roughly 50 percent of its strategic focus to democracy safeguard initiatives, indicating a significant uptick in their prior internal engagement level, said executive director Joseph Geevarghese. 

The additional investment came after Geevarghese received feedback from a routine survey in mid-May about issues most important to the group’s membership. For the first time, health care was bumped from the No. 1 slot of priorities and voting rights ranked as the chief concern. 

“Democracy issues were not at the top of our members’ minds until very recently,” Geevarghese said. “To hear it come from the grassroots was shocking. I would have lost money if I had bet on the results.”

The shift is widely seen as necessary given the moves by states such as Georgia, Florida and Texas to take steps to restrict mail-in and early voting, among other measures that progressive groups and Democrats view as intended to depress the vote of their constituents, including minority groups.

Progressives are worried the new state restrictions could prevent Democrats from winning elections in next year’s midterms, when the House and Senate majorities will be in play. It also comes after a 2020 election cycle where Democrats were surprised at how poorly they did in House races given Biden’s victory in the White House race.

It has also caused some frustration among leading activists who envisioned working on a full slate of issues under their party’s control of Washington.

“I didn’t anticipate this being the big fight,” said Tiffany Flowers, campaign manager of The Frontline, a group of left-aligned organizations led by Black activists.

Flowers said there are a host of issues, including expanding immigration and climate change measures that would help Black and brown communities, that are effectively on hold at the federal level amid the fight over voting rights.

“We can’t fight for any of that right now,” she said. “We’re not even talking about any of that right now because we all understand the magnitude of this moment.”

The Senate is slated to bring up for debate the For the People Act this week, though it has no clear path to Biden’s desk with centrist Democrats unwilling to end the legislative filibuster.

No Republicans support the measure, and the GOP largely sees the effort as a power grab by Democrats. With the filibuster in place, Democrats would need 10 Republicans to back the bill to move it through the Senate.

Democrats also do not yet have 50 Democratic senators behind the bill so far, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is opposed to the legislation. But Manchin has proposed changes to the bill, and the party is hopeful they can mold the legislation this week to bring him on board.

If Republicans then block it, Democrats will argue the GOP is holding up voting rights progress. And they hope that will help convince Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and others to back ending the legislative filibuster.

In a tactic nod to Manchin on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki expressed “hope” during a briefing with reporters that “Democrats would be aligned” on the upcoming Senate vote. Psaki acknowledged that “a magical 10 votes” from Republicans are unlikely. 

Geevarghese, of Our Revolution, hired organizers in Arizona and West Virginia and said the group received a strong fundraising response to solicitations for donations around voting. 

“I think it was a wake-up call,” he said. “If we lose on these procedural issues, it’s game over. We’re not going to make significant advances on our other priorities.” 

Tags Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Filibuster For the People Act Healthcare Immigration Jeff Merkley Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema voting rights

Most Popular

Load more

Video

See all Video