By John L. Micek
If you’re arguing with a Republican about the GOP’s dismal support for suffrage and its fractured relationship with black Americans, it won’t be long before your rhetorical sparring partner yells “Robert Byrd” at you and declares the argument over.
The logic here, if you can even call it that, is that because Byrd, the wizened former U.S. senator from West Virginia who’s been dead for over a decade, was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan, so Democrats cannot be true supporters of civil rights and black Americans. This political original sin is further compounded, they will tell you, by the fact that Southern Democrats such as the late Arkansas Governor Orval Fabus led the charge against school desegregation in the late 1950s.
This analysis leaves out the fact that Byrd had a well-documented change of heart later in life, and that the so-called “Southern strategy” employed by Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater in the 1960s appealed to racist whites. into the Republican fold, where they have remained ever since.
Half a century later, a Trumpified Republican Party that left Abraham Lincoln’s legacy far behind, continues to upend Democrats against Byrd as he staunchly opposes slow-moving voting rights legislation and painfully in Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to hold a vote on two bills, the John R. Lewis Advancing Voting Rights Act and the Free Suffrage Act, before the national holiday of the Martin Luther King’s Day Monday. To do that, Democrats will need to build an internal consensus as they debate whether to change Senate rules to lift the 60-vote threshold to push legislation forward.
While some Democrats oppose changing the rules, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as President Joe Biden, are pushing for it. The Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote.
In a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, Biden laid out the historic stakes of failing to pass nationwide voting protections as Republican-controlled legislatures across the country, including Pennsylvania, moved to restrict voting. access to ballot boxes.
“I think the threat to our democracy is so great that we need to find a way to get this voting rights bill passed,” Biden said. “Debate them, vote on them, let the majority win and if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no choice but to change the rules of the Senate, including removing the filibuster.”
This week, Republicans opposed to the bill made, as Vice News reports, a nonsensical argument against both bills, saying that because so many voters turned out in 2020, there’s no problem. with access to ballot boxes and protections built into legislation. are not necessary.
While it’s true that voters turned out in droves two years ago, this ahistorical argument once again conveniently omits every action Republicans have taken since then.
At least 19 states have passed 34 laws restricting voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Analyzes have shown that turnout has increased in states that have facilitated voting and therefore there is no threat to election integrity.
“Put simply, tightening the rules to prevent astronomically rare fraud events is likely to do far more harm than good,” wrote Douglas R. Hess, professor of political science at Grinnell College in Iowa, USA. a March 2021 analysis published by The Conversation. “The 2020 general election demonstrated that policies expanding access to the ballot – including those that were set to be removed by some bills states are considering this spring – can be implemented safely, even under difficult conditions. very stressful.”
Only one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted to allow consideration of a new suffrage law. And not a single Republican — including Murkowski — voted to pass the Free Suffrage Act.
But, in 2006, the “Voting Rights Act” was adopted by 390 against 33 in the House of Representatives and 98 against zero in the Senate with the votes of the 16 current Republicans, sitting in the United States Senate. Sixteen of them voted to extend it,” Biden said this week.
On Tuesday, Biden forcefully defended the case for passing the bills in this manner: “Do you want to side with Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to side with John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to side with Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?
History will judge the GOP by its final response.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.