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On MLK Day, Biden pushes voting rights bills as Senate prepares for fight

UniqueThis 23 Jan 17

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday renewed his calls for passing voting rights legislation at a breakfast honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day before the Senate is expected to begin a contentious debate over the two bills.

"On this federal holiday that honors him, it's not just enough to praise him. We must commit to his unfinished work to deliver jobs and justice, to protect the sacred right to vote," Biden said in recorded remarks to the National Action Network's annual breakfast honoring the late civil rights icon.

"The attack on our democracy is real, from the January 6th insurrection to the onslaught of Republicans' anti-voting laws in a number of states," he said. "It's no longer about who doesn't get to vote. It's about whether your vote counts at all. It's about two insidious things, voter suppression and election subversion."

The White House has pressed Congress to pass two major pieces of legislation, the Freedom To Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which aim to broaden access to the ballot box, raise the bar for states with a recent history of discrimination to change voting laws and protect election officials from undue partisan influence.

The bills passed the House in one package last week and have majority support in the Senate. But they have no path to 60 votes to break a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska being the only Republican to support the John Lewis bill and no Republicans supporting the second bill. Democrats also don't have the 50 votes needed to change the rules to carve out a filibuster exception for voting rights, with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., supportive of the 60-vote rule.

The Senate hopes to begin debating the election bills on Tuesday, but it is not expected to vote before Wednesday, a Democratic leadership aide said, suggesting that debate may commence with unanimous consent.

After the debate begins, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will eventually make a motion to end debate, which will set up a 60-vote threshold vote to move to a final vote. That's where Republicans are expected to execute a filibuster to block the legislation. Once that happens, Schumer has said the Senate will then consider rules changes, but he has not said which rules they will consider changing.

Despite the likely failure, Democratic leaders intend to hold a vote on some form of a filibuster change.

"This is what the caucus wants," a senior Democratic aide said, acknowledging they have a "difficult hand to play" in the evenly divided Senate. "It's a historic vote and everybody needs to go on the record here... Nobody's just going to give up. Sometimes having a vote puts pressure on people."

Senators who are on a delegation visit to Ukraine will return in time for votes this week, an aide to one of the senators said on Monday.

Biden sought, again, to add pressure on senators.

"We're at another moment right now where the mirror is being held up to America again," Biden said in his MLK Day remarks. "The question being asked again: Where do we stand? Whose side are we on?"


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