Biden puts voting rights high on agenda, shifting focus as hopes for Build Back Better dwindle

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden has put new emphasis on voting rights legislation, saying “there is nothing more important at the national level”.

“This is the biggest problem,” he said.

Biden made the comment to reporters on Wednesday as the Senate signaled it would not be able to complete work on the president’s home policy bill until next year.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said on Wednesday Democrats would continue to work on Biden’s spending priorities in the Build Back Better plan, but conversations would also continue on the rights of vote.

“There is a universal opinion in our caucus that we need to pass a law to protect our democracy,” Schumer said.

NAACP Chairman Derrick Johnson said his group agreed with Biden’s statement and “looked forward to a meeting with the White House in the coming days.”

Johnson discussed the issue with several senators on Wednesday, including Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema, who recently reiterated her opposition to changing Senate rules to facilitate passage.

At least 19 states have passed laws this year making it harder for Americans to vote, according to an analysis from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

The White House – and especially Vice President Kamala Harris – is under increasing pressure to do more to push federal protections through Congress.

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In an interview with SiriusXM this week, Harris called protecting the right to vote “one of the most critical battles facing us right now.”

But Sinema and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia opposed changing Senate rules to circumvent a GOP obstruction of voting rights legislation that was passed by the House.

This legislation would replace part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the United States Supreme Court struck down in 2013, and would seek to restore the Department of Justice’s review of changes to electoral law in states with a history of election law. discrimination.

Another voting rights bill written with input from Sinema and Manchin also does not have enough Republican support to thwart an obstruction.

Blocked in the Senate: Republicans block John Lewis’ voting rights law in Senate vote

Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., Said on Wednesday as he left Schumer’s office that discussions continued over possible rule changes. One possibility is to adopt a one-time filibuster amendment to allow a simple majority to pass the legislation. Senators did so this month to approve an increase in the country’s debt limit over GOP objections.

“I think we are making progress,” Tester said. “The goal is to do it as quickly as possible. “

Democrats also still face hurdles in adopting the Build Back Better package which includes expanding the social safety net and tackling climate change. They are unlikely to get it through the Senate before the end of the year.

“The calendar is not our friend,” Illinois Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Thursday.

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the package’s biggest advocate in the Senate, said on Wednesday he wanted Build Back Better to pass as quickly as possible.

“But if we can’t fix it now,” Sanders said, “it’s much more important that we deal with the issue of voting rights.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., On Thursday accused the “radical left” of saying the skies are falling if states abandon voting procedures adopted during the pandemic.

“It’s not about ‘voting rights’,” McConnell said, “it’s a naked takeover.”

Maureen Groppe has covered Washington for nearly three decades and is now the White House correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter @mgroppe.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden signals new focus on voting rights legislation

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