Mondaire Jones, a New York Democratic Representative, was present at the White House to sign the proclamation declaring Juneteenth a National Holiday. He told President Joe Biden that their party needed more involvement in passing legislation on the Hill.
Jones replied: Jones replied, “Just sort of stared” at Biden. Jones described an “awkward silence” that occurred between them.
Jones viewed the moment as emblematic of the lackluster engagement of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on an issue that they considered urgent and essential for the health and survival of American democracy.
The White House has called the issue “the fight of his presidency,” but Biden has prioritised his economic initiatives, which are more likely to win Republican support at the Senate. He has not shown any interest in the messy debate about changing Senate rules so that legislation can be passed on Democratic votes only.
Progressives said that Biden couldn’t avoid the massive election legislation by Democrats on Tuesday and should use all of his leverage to find a way forward. This criticism suggested that the voting debate could be Biden’s first public, major rift with the left during his presidency.
Mondaire stated that Obama has done more to save our democracy than the current president of America. He was referring to an interview Mondaire had given in which Obama pushed for the legislation.
The White House claims that Harris and Biden were in constant touch with Democratic leadership as the legislation, the For the People Act, was passed through Congress. Biden has been vocal at times and called the new Georgia law supported by Republicans “atrocity”.
Harris met with several leaders from civil and voting rights groups via video conference on Wednesday. Harris described the moment as an “inflection” point and reiterated his commitment to federal legislation that protects voting rights.
Biden met Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) at the White House in advance of the vote to discuss voting rights and infrastructure. Biden did not use his influence to help Republicans who expressed strong and unanimous opposition to any voting legislation. They argued that Democrats are trying to take over elections currently run by county and state officials.
Biden focused much of the month on foreign policy, including a trip to Europe to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. He also sold his infrastructure plan to Americans. Harris was given the task of leading the discussion and she spent the week meeting with voting rights advocates while on a tour of the country.
Some activists aren’t satisfied with these efforts. They claim that tightening state election laws is designed to make voting more difficult for Black voters, young voters, and those who aren’t frequent to vote. They believe that federal legislation is the best way to combat state laws. Biden should support a change to the Senate filibuster rules, which require 60 votes for most legislation to be passed.
Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist and long-time aide to Harry Reid, stated that “Progressives are losing their patience” and that he thinks especially African American Democrats are losing their patience. They feel like they’ve done the good Democrat thing in the past year, since Biden won the nomination. This includes unifying support for Biden, turning out and showing up on Election Day.
“Progressives feel like they did their part. Now it’s time to pay the bill. I think some progressives feel like: “OK, well, how much longer do we have to wait?”
There may be a silver lining to the Democratic struggle over voting rights. The issue is a powerful motivator and could drive enthusiasm among Black voters, possibly driving engagement in a year with a difficult political climate for Democrats.
Harris, who was the president of the Senate on Tuesday, watched the legislation fail in debate. She then told reporters that she and Biden support voting legislation and that “the fight isn’t over.”
Ezra Levin is the co-executive Director of Indivisible, a progressive grassroots organization. He said that it has not been able to provide the same level of advocacy as the public on the infrastructure bill.
“The president has been watching from the sidelines. Levin stated that while he has made statements of support and maybe added a few lines to a speech, there has not been anything on the same scale as his public advocacy for recovery of COVID relief, roads, and bridges.
“We believe this crisis is at the same level of crumbling roads, bridges, and we can agree on that. The question is: Why is the president sitting on the sidelines?”
White House aides deny that the president or vice president weren’t involved in the matter.
A White House official stated that the White House sees infrastructure as the greater political winner because it is popular with both sides of the aisle. According to the White House, passing a major infrastructure bill will help Democrats win the 2022 midterms. This is in contrast to taking on massive voting reform that has a slim chance of passage, according the official.
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, stated Wednesday that Biden will make use of the “bully pulpit” of the presidency in the coming weeks to increase voting rights.
Psaki stated that there are many avenues to work across the nation — with activists, states, and legislators — using all the levers at our disposal to increase access and improve voting access across the country.
Filibuster amendments could be a negative for Biden’s reputation as a bipartisan dealmaker. It could also poison delicate negotiations about infrastructure where the White House believes there is still room for bipartisan compromise.
But, Democrats believe it’s time for Biden and the Democrats to speak out on this issue. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) said that the Republican proposals he wants to pass in Texas are “more explicit” and “more dangerous than any I’ve ever seen.”
Allred stated that the vote fight puts pressure on Biden, who is now under greater pressure to lead the filibuster fight.
He stated that President Biden must make this a priority if he is going to discuss supporting the underlying legislation. “It doesn’t really matter if there’s no way to get through the filibuster.