WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called out two fellow Democrats on Tuesday in explaining why he hasn’t enacted some of the most ambitious elements of his agenda, noting that slim majorities in the House and evenly divided Senate have hamstrung legislative negotiations around key issues like voting rights.
Biden, speaking during an event marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, responded to critics who question why he hasn’t been able to get a wide-reaching voting rights bill passed.
“Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House, and a tie in the Senate — with two members of the Senate who voted more with my Republican friends,” he lamented.
It appeared to be a veiled reference to Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom have frustrated Democrats with their defense of the filibuster — the rule requiring most legislation to win 60 votes to pass, making many of Democrats’ biggest priorities like voting rights and gun control bills dead on arrival in the 50-50 Senate. While Sinema is a sponsor of the voting rights bill that passed the House, known as the For the People Act, Manchin has refused to sign on, calling the measure “too broad."
But in fact, it’s not just Manchin and Sinema who oppose doing away with the filibuster — as many as 10 Democratic senators are reluctant to change the rules even for must-pass legislation like the voting rights bill. Biden himself has not said he wants to end the filibuster.
What’s unclear is whether Biden’s comments will changes senators’ views. The president’s remarks come as senators are facing tough choices ahead as pressure mounts for changes.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told colleagues he would be bringing the voting rights bill to a vote the week of June 21, in effect testing where senators stand. Schumer warned in a letter to colleagues last week to brace for the month ahead. “The June work period will be extremely challenging,” Schumer told them. He said it would “test our resolve” as Congress.
Despite the logjam in Congress, Biden promised further action to address what he described as “a tireless assault on the right to vote,” comments that came in response to the latest effort by a state legislature to pass a law restricting voting access, this time in Texas. He said he would “fight like heck, with every tool at my disposal” to ensure the passage of the For the People Act when the Senate takes it up this month. He tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with leading the administration’s efforts to defend voting rights.
In a statement, Harris said she plans to work with voting rights groups, community organizations and the private sector to strengthen voting rights, as well as push for passage of voting rights legislation on Capitol Hill.
"The work ahead of us is to make voting accessible to all American voters, and to make sure every vote is counted through a free, fair, and transparent process. This is the work of democracy," she said in the statement.
Biden also called on voting rights groups to “redouble” their efforts to register and educate voters and said June should be a “month of action” on Capitol Hill.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.