Speaking Friday (Dec. 17) at an HBCU commencement ceremony, President Joe Biden pledged to make every effort to push stalled voting rights and police reform legislation through Congress.
It’s been an uphill battle to pass those key pieces of legislation that will impact the Black community. Two days before Biden’s South Carolina State University address, Martin Luther King III invited activists to join him for a series of demonstrations in January. Protesters will urge Congress and the White House to end the filibuster rule that’s blocking the passage of voting rights legislation.
In his speech, Biden said Senate Republicans are blocking the measures from advancing, according to the Associated Press. The chamber is split evenly, 50-50, between Democrats and Republicans.
“But this battle’s not over,” Biden said. “We’re going to keep up the fight until we get it done.”
There’s an urgency as Republican-led legislatures chip away at voting rights. Several of those states, including Georgia and Arizona, are enacting restrictive voting laws targeting voters of color in time for the 2022 mid-term elections.
Voting rights activists have called on lawmakers to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is aimed at fighting voter suppression and restoring enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Also on the table is the Freedom to Vote Act, which would remove barriers to voting, including allowing all voters to request mail-in ballots.
In November, supporters of the John Lewis Act blasted Senate Republicans who blocked the measure in a 50-49 tally of the procedural vote on whether to open debate on the legislation. It’s nearly impossible to move the bill past the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to advance most legislation.
To advance in the Senate, several Republicans must cross party lines and vote with Democrats for the voting rights bills to pass. At the same time, Democrats must also win the support of conservative Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.
Meanwhile, the House passed a sweeping police reform measure in March, in the aftermath of the 2020 murder of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis. However, months of negotiations in the Senate stalled the advancement of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Failure to push policing reform through Congress, which was one of Biden’s campaign promises, has been a blow to the administration.