By Lucia Leal
Washington, Jan 11 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Tuesday for the first time came out publicly in support of changing US Senate rules to be able to pass laws designed to combat the increasing restrictions that Republicans are placing on voting at the state level, asserting that democracy is at risk if those rules cannot be changed.
“Let the majority prevail,” Biden said at the Atlanta University Center Consortium on the grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College. “Today, I’m making it clear, to protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed, to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.”
“I’m tired of being quiet” on the matter, Biden said.
Georgia is one of the 19 states where Republican lawmakers have approved changes in longstanding election rules in the past year that critics argue make it harder for people to vote, a situation that Democrats believe disenfranchises millions of their voters and would cement Republican control of many states’ institutions and even in national elections.
Biden thus went one step further in his complaint that the GOP opposition is preparing the ground to make it more difficult to vote in upcoming election cycles and, potentially, thus engineering a situation in which they could reverse the result in legislative or other races that they might lose in 2022 or in the presidential election cycle in 2024.
Former President Donald Trump, who has the reins of the Republican Party firmly in his grasp at present, has managed to convince the majority of conservative voters that Democrats “stole” the 2020 elections and is using that power to help GOP lawmakers push forward to laws designed to suppress voting in states controlled by the conservatives, Biden warned.
Biden asserted that the aim of the GOP-implemented voting laws is “to turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion.”
“The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them,” Biden said. “That is the kind of power you see in a totalitarian state – not in a democracy.”
“History has never been kind to those who’ve sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights,” Biden said, declaring that the upcoming Senate votes on the issue will be a “turning point” for the nation. “And it’s been less kind for those who side with election subversion.”
According to experts in the US voting system, some of the measures approved in the conservative-controlled states increase the influence of partisan politicians in administering elections, a situation that could facilitate the manipulation of poll results that go against them.
Given the fact that the US has no central electoral system, but rather each state sets its own rules for elections, Democrats are concerned that if Trump or other GOP politicians again challenges the result of one or more elections, the new state laws could enable them to successfully reverse an election result that went against them.
To prevent that, Democrats have pushed two federal bills that counter those state measures: the so-called “Freedom to Vote Act” and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
However, the GOP opposition so far has managed to block the passage of those laws thanks to a maneuver known as the “filibuster,” which allows them to prevent debate on any measure in the Senate that does not obtain the support of 60 senators. In this way, a minority of 41 senators can prevent the body from considering or passing laws that the majority backs.
Biden, who was a senator for more than three decades before becoming vice president under Barack Obama and then president in 2020, to date had opposed the possibility that Democrats could eliminate the filibuster so that their narrow majority could prevail on legislation in the Senate – where they hold 50 of the 100 seats, but Vice President Kamala Harris, as President of the Senate, could break a 50-50 tie.
Nevertheless, he said that the obstructionism of Republicans has left him “no option” than to support doing away with the filibuster, at least for voting rights, given that the Senate, “designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self.”
The alternative, according to Harris, who spoke in Atlanta just before Biden, means accepting the fact that the entire US will be “paying the price” for “generations.”
The idea of Biden and the Democrats is to eliminate the possibility of the filibuster solely for voting rights measures without completely doing away with the measure.
However, to get this change approved they will need complete unanimity among the Democratic ranks in the Senate and at least two Democratic senators – centrists Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – have expressed opposition to the idea of ending the filibuster for any reason.
Despite that, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, decided to accelerate debate on the issue and on Tuesday he said that “as soon as tomorrow,” Wednesday, he will schedule a vote on election reforms.