Voting Rights Activists Think Biden's Actions Fall Short Of His Dire Warnings For Democrats looking for the president to lead amid a wave of bills intended to restrict voting access, his speech this week was a long time coming. But for some, it also fell short of expectations.

Voting Rights Activists Think Biden's Actions Fall Short Of His Dire Warnings

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Philadelphia earlier this week, President Biden again called on Congress to pass legislation to protect voting rights. Many activists say that he hasn't made the issue a top priority, despite a big push in Republican-led states to try to restrict voting access as NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Speaking in the birthplace of American democracy, President Biden called the fight against restrictive voting laws the most significant test of democracy since the Civil War. And he tried to reenergize the push for Democrats sweeping bill to change the election system and a second bill that would restore key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As soon as Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, I will sign it and let the whole world see it. That will be an important moment.

SUMMERS: But after the speech, which activists had been waiting for for weeks, some noticed a big omission. Biden did not detail a legislative plan to move the bills forward, and he offered no details on any new strategies he planned to try to combat Republican voting laws.

EZRA LEVIN: It felt like the president fully understands the threats to our democracy but seems to be leading the fight to everybody else.

SUMMERS: That's Ezra Levin, a co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible.

LEVIN: Instead of saying, and here is what the White House is going to do to get this legislation through, instead of giving the kind of speech that LBJ gave ahead of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he talked about a lot of other random stuff.

SUMMERS: The stuff that Levin is referring to there includes the work of the Justice Department to challenge voting laws passed in the states this year. Republicans argue they're needed to cut down on voter fraud despite no evidence it's a widespread phenomenon. The wave of state-based laws, coupled with court rulings that would make it harder to fight intrusions on voting rights, has led to calls for Biden to throw his support behind eliminating or changing the filibuster to push the legislation through the U.S. Senate.

NSE UFOT: It was shocking that it wasn't even mentioned at all, given how masterfully the Republicans have used it to block civil rights legislation in the past.

SUMMERS: That is Nse Ufot. She's the CEO of the New Georgia Project.

UFOT: The idea that there was no plan communicated or even - not a plan, a desire, an ambition, an understanding of how the filibuster is blocking this critical piece of voting rights legislation. The silence was deafening.

SUMMERS: Biden seemed to acknowledge the congressional landscape, describing legislation as just one tool in the toolbox. He talked about the leading role Vice President Harris is playing in the administration's efforts, and he shifted his focus to next year's midterm elections - the need to educate voters about the changing laws, register them to vote and mobilize them.

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BIDEN: We have to forge a coalition of Americans of every background and political party - the advocates, the students, the faith leaders, the labor leaders, the business executives. And raise the urgency of this moment.

SUMMERS: But some Black activists say the coalition that Biden is talking about already exists, and it's stepped up for him and the November election. LaTosha Brown is a co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

LATOSHA BROWN: We knew what was at stake, and we delivered. Our expectation is that the White House will deliver to us just as we delivered the White House.

SUMMERS: Brown says she wants to see Biden use the full power of his presidency, given what those stakes are.

Juana Summers, NPR News.

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