After Recent Blows To The Voting Rights Act, Biden Is Pressured To Step In
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the Voting Rights Act. This is a landmark law from the civil rights movement. And this has turned up the pressure on President Biden to step in. This week, he is expected to lay out his case for what needs to happen.
NPR's Ayesha Rascoe joins us now to talk about the limited options for the White House. Ayesha, thanks for being here.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: The Democrats brought up this broad voting rights bill in the Senate a few weeks ago, and it failed. Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in and reaffirmed states' rights over elections, what can the president do?
RASCOE: For big sweeping changes, that will take Congress. There are two voting rights bills stalled right now. One is more narrow in scope. It's called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. And the other is the one that you mentioned that failed in the Senate that's very broad. It's the For the People Act. The problem for both bills is that there is a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. And neither of them can clear that right now.
I talked about that with Cedric Richmond, a senior White House adviser. And he said that the White House views this moment as just the beginning of the fight. He said the president is going to be using his bully pulpit and the power of the White House to try to bring civil rights groups, private companies and activists together to bring more attention to this issue. Here's more of what he said.
CEDRIC RICHMOND: We're going to fight in the courts. We're going to fight in the streets. We're going to fight, you know, for fair voting. We're going to do that. But at the same time, we want our groups and community leaders to also take the belt-and-suspenders approach of educating people on how to deal with these new laws. What do they mean? How do I still vote meaningfully?
RASCOE: But when it comes down to it, outside of influencing the public, there's not much they could do that would really have a major impact.
MARTIN: Can you say more about the kinds of pressure the White House is getting from civil rights groups?
RASCOE: Activists absolutely do not want this issue to fall by the wayside. They are pleased that Vice President Harris has been made the point person on this issue. But they want to make sure that it's a top priority.
I talked to Jamal Watkins of the NAACP, one of the groups that has been in talks with the White House. Watkins says he believes that Biden should use his authority to keep in place some of the safety measures from the last election to protect voters who are not vaccinated and may not be vaccinated by next year. He also said that the White House could try to push the U.S. Postal Service to make it easier to vote by mail.
JAMAL WATKINS: The Postal Service can be a vessel, if you will, to eliminate barriers by ensuring ballot tracking, ballots actually being prioritized at the highest level and other improvements around scanning of identification cards.
RASCOE: But ultimately, Watkins and other people that I talked to said Biden is limited in what he can do unless he pushes for changes to the filibuster.
MARTIN: Ah, so let's talk about that. I mean, just a reminder - the filibuster is the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance a bill like this one. Are there any new signs that Biden is ready to go all-in on reforming it?
RASCOE: Well, he's certainly getting a lot of pressure to do something. The protections that civil rights groups really want can only come through Congress. And they don't want the filibuster to stand in the way.
Wade Henderson is with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. He said the status quo is unacceptable.
WADE HENDERSON: We know that without congressional action, there is not nearly the scope of enforcement initiatives available to the president that we think are necessary. For that reason, both bills must be passed in some form.
RASCOE: But it doesn't look like the White House is at the point of doing a full-court press on this - on the filibuster. When I talk to Cedric Richmond, he said the White House still wants to give lawmakers a chance to reach a bipartisan deal.
MARTIN: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, thank you.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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