Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio was arrested by Capitol Police Thursday afternoon after leading a demonstration advocating for voting rights at a Senate office building.
Beatty, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke outside the Capitol calling for the passage of the For the People Act – which is focused on expanding voting rights – as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Photos of her arrest were posted on Beatty’s Twitter with the caption: “Let the people vote. Fight for justice.”
“I stand in solidarity with Black women and allies across the country in defense of our constitutional right to vote,” Beatty said in a statement in response to her arrest. “We have come too far and fought too hard to see everything systematically dismantled and restricted by those who wish to silence us.”
“Be assured that this is just the beginning,” the congresswoman continued. “This is Our Power, Our Message.”
US Capitol Police said in a statement that nine people were arrested “for demonstrating in a prohibited area on Capitol Grounds.” Beatty’s arrest was not specified in the statement.
“At approximately 3:30pm, the United States Capitol Police responded to the Atrium in the Hart Senate Office Building for reports of illegal demonstration activity,” they said. “After officers arrived on the scene, they warned the demonstrators three times to stop.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had harsh words for Texas Democrats who fled the state Monday for Washington, DC, in a dramatic walkout to block passage of a series of Republican-led bills.
The Kentucky Republican accused the state Democratic lawmakers of coming to the nation’s capital to have a moment in the sun.
The legislators “decided to grab some beer, hop on a private plane and flee the state in what they are pretending is some great moral crusade,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, according to CNN’s Manu Raju. “In reality, they’ve just come here to Washington to snap selfies and bask in the limelight.”
The state lawmakers this week met with some of the nation’s top leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to raise concerns about voting rights in the nation. Vice President Kamala Harris threw her support behind their walkout on Monday, saying: “I applaud their standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote unencumbered.”
President Joe Biden on Tuesday forcefully denounced the wave of GOP-backed restrictive voting bills, using the concept of a free and fair democracy to make a moral argument for voting rights in his first major speech on the matter.
Biden spoke at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia as the White House and his administration face mounting pressure to adopt a more forceful stance on voter suppression.
“The denial of full and free and fair elections is the most un-American thing that any of us can imagine, the most un-democratic, the most un-patriotic and sadly not unprecedented,” Biden said.
In his speech, the president lambasted Republican-led efforts to enact restrictive voting bills in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.
“To me, this is simple. It’s election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting in the integrity of free and fair elections in our history,” Biden said.
He added: “We have got to shore up our election system and address the threats to election subversion not just from abroad, which I spent time with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin talking about, but from home. From home. Will you ignore their voices? Are you on the side of truth or lies, fact or fiction, justice or injustice? Democracy or autocracy? That’s what it comes down to.”
In the speech, Biden forcefully defended the integrity of the 2020 election.
“More than 80 judges, including those appointed by my predecessor heard the arguments,” he said. “In every case, neither cause nor evidence was found to undermine the national achievement of administering the historic election.”
“The big lie is just that – a big lie!” Biden added.
The president also made the case that American democracy has been strained over the past year.
“In 2020, democracy was put to a test. First by the pandemic. Then by a desperate attempt to deny the reality of the results of the election, and then by a violent and deadly insurrection on the Capitol, the citadel of our democracy,” he said.
Biden has previously highlighted the growing trend of legislatures also passing provisions that add potential criminal penalties for election officials and give partisan state lawmakers more control over who runs elections and more power to overturn election results.
Republican lawmakers in 17 states have passed over 28 bills with provisions that tighten voting access as of June 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, after Trump and his allies waged an unprecedented campaign to try to overturn the 2020 election results based on false claims of fraud.
Those lawmakers visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby lawmakers on passing federal legislation to protect voting rights.
But at the federal level, the White House is staring down the problem of a Senate filibuster rule that requires a three-fifths majority for most legislation and no room for error in a Senate that’s split 50-50.
Republicans have consistently defended GOP voting laws as common sense reforms that will bolster election security and claimed that the Democrats are overstating their potential to restrict voting.
“Joe Biden and Democrats have an election power grab playbook: lies and theatrics. After Democrats failed to pass their federal takeover of our elections (H.R.1), Biden is continuing their dishonest attacks on commonsense election integrity efforts,” Republican National Committee Communications Director Danielle Álvarez said in a statement. “Meanwhile, Republicans are engaged in state-led efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and polling shows Americans overwhelmingly support these laws.”
Biden, to the chagrin of many liberal activists, has been unwilling to call for major changes to the Senate filibuster. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the decision over whether to make changes to the filibuster “will be made by members of the Senate, not by this president or any president, frankly, moving forward.”
“If it were waving a magic wand to get voting rights legislation on his desk through any means, he would do that,” Psaki said. “But it requires the majority of members in the Senate to support changes to the filibuster.”
Biden will “continue to lift up, elevate, advocate, engage, [and] empower people across the country,” Psaki added, calling it “the most instructive” thing he can do.
State House Democrats previously walked out at the end of the last legislative session in May in order to deny a quorum and run out the clock to pass Senate Bill 7, a bill that included new restrictions on voting and criminal penalties for election officials.
After the first walkout, Republicans dropped two of SB 7’s controversial provisions from the new bills: one that would have limited early voting hours on Sundays to began after 1 pm and a measure that would have made it easier for losing candidates to overturn election results.
But many lawmakers say their bold action isn’t as much about the specific provisions of the bills themselves than the overall principle of Republicans aiming to pass legislation that tightens voting rules in the wake of the 2020 election, – in addition to Abbott vetoing funding for the legislative branch in response to the previous walkout.
Texas already has strict voting rules, with no online, automatic, or same-day voter registration; requiring an excuse to vote absentee for those under 65; and mandating a photo ID to vote.
Biggest highlights of HB 3 and SB 1:
New early voting hours. Both bills require counties to hold at least nine hours of voting during the early voting period that can start as early as 6 am and end as late as 9 pm in SB 1 and 10 pm in SB 1. The bills set a more specific set of hours than current law, which just requires early voting to be held during a county clerk’s office during “regular business hours.”
Both bills also require early voting to be held for 12 hours a day during the last week of early voting in larger counties and allow small counties with less than 1,000 voters to hold fewer hours.
The new hours for early voting, however, would ban local officials from offering early voting overnight 24 hours a day, as Harris County did in 2020 during the pandemic.
ID information needed to vote absentee. Texas, which already uses signature matching to verify absentee ballots, will now require voters to provide the number on their driver’s license, other state ID, or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the outer envelope when requesting an absentee ballot.
More restrictions on absentee applications. Both laws make it a state jail felony for election officials to send out absentee ballot applications unsolicited to voters both eligible and not eligible to vote absentee.
More protections and access for partisan poll watchers.
Enhanced criminal penalties for paid ballot collection, sometimes called ballot or vote harvesting, on behalf of a candidate or party.
More rules for people assisting voters, including requiring assistors to fill out a form stating their relationship to the voter.
The option for voters to “cure” or fix issues with their absentee ballots. In a move advocated by Democrats, both bills include a new provision that will require officials to notify voters if their absentee ballot is missing a signature on the outer envelope or has a mismatched signature, and give them an opportunity to fix the problem.
In another provision sought by Democrats, HB 3 protects against a person being convicted of a crime for voting a provisional ballot while unknowingly ineligible, a response to the prosecution of Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting on supervised release.
President Joe Biden will forcefully denounce GOP-backed voting bills as “grounded in autocracy, un-democratic, un-American, and un-patriotic” and make “the moral case” for voting rights in his first major speech on the matter, Politico and CNN report.
Biden will speak at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon as the White House and Biden administration face mounting pressure to adopt a more forceful stance on voter suppression with his bully pulpit.
“In the birthplace of American Democracy, President Biden will articulate how to meet the greatest threat to the right to vote and the integrity of our elections since the Civil War, renew his call for vital legislation- to overcome the rash of anti-voter laws motivated by the Big Lie, and underline the all-of-government effort the Biden-Harris Administration launched to use the powers of the executive branch to protect and advance the sacred, constitutional right to vote,” a White House official told CNN.
Republican lawmakers in 17 states have passed over 28 bills with provisions that tighten voting access as of June 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, after former President Donald Trump and his allies waged an unprecedented campaign to try to overturn the 2020 election results based on false claims of fraud.
And in recent remarks, Biden has also highlighted the growing trend of legislatures also passing provisions that add potential criminal penalties for election officials and give partisan state lawmakers more control over who runs elections and more power to overturn election results.
Biden will say that “these new insidious moves to empower partisans over independent election authorities in terms of who counts the votes are new and extremely dangerous,” and “are the most significant threat today to the integrity of our elections, and to the security of the right to vote for people of all races and backgrounds,” White House officials told CNN and Politico.
Biden, to the chagrin of many activists, has been unwilling to call for major changes to the Senate filibuster that requires 60 votes to advance to debate on and pass most legislation.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the decision over whether to make changes to the filibuster “will be made by members of the Senate, not by this president or any president, frankly, moving forward.”
“If it were waving a magic wand to get voting rights legislation on his desk through any means, he would do that,” Psaki said. “But it requires the majority of members in the Senate to support changes to the filibuster.”
Instead, Politico reported, Biden will call for a “new coalition” on voting rights to work at the grassroots level.
Psaki said Monday that Biden will “continue to lift up, elevate, advocate, engage, [and] empower people across the country,” calling it “the most instructive” thing he can do.
Speaking to KVUE on Monday, the two-term Republican criticized Democratic lawmakers who fled en masse to block several conservative bills from passing in a legislative special session.
“As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” he said.
Democratic leaders in the Texas House said on Monday that they had flown to Washington, DC, to “refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote.”
Under Texas law, two-thirds of lawmakers must be present for legislative business to proceed.
Abbott convened the special session earlier this month to pass a litany of conservative priorities, including legislation targeting voting, abortion access, transgender rights, and critical race theory.
The marquee issue is a restrictive voting bill that Republican lawmakers have sought largely in response to President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.
The bill would modify early-voting hours, curb the 24/7 voting centers that were popular with shift workers in Democratic-leaning Harris County in last year’s presidential election, and scrap straight-ticket voting, among other measures.
However, the GOP-dominated Legislature is unlikely to take up that bill.
While no Democratic state senators had accompanied their House counterparts to the nation’s capital as of Tuesday, a Democratic official said several senators might travel there, according to The New York Times.
Abbott told KVUE that he would not relent from carrying out his legislative objectives.
The governor said he would “continue to call special session after special session” until Democratic lawmakers are present.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court signed the death certificate for voting rights. In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the Court decided that Arizona could implement restrictions that hamper the ability of Black and brown voters to cast their ballot.
In essence, more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, the federal protections against racially discriminatory voting policies have been stripped away. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court has given new energy to right wing states that want to keep minority voters away from the polls.
Democrats have the Supreme Court and red states against them. So their only choice left is to go local – and out-organize anyone standing in their way.
The big lie on steroids
While Republican-controlled states have passed onerous voting laws for years, the recent spate of voter suppression tactics all stem from former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” The fact that President Joe Biden won the reliably Republican states of Georgia and Arizona sent a shockwave through the GOP. We all know, and perhaps expected, Trump to falsely claim that there was voter “fraud” after his 2020 loss. But now Republicans are falling all over themselves to please the former President by enacting laws to prevent these nonexistent “irregularities” from happening again.
Arizona, where the Supreme Court case originated, prevents friends and neighbors from helping someone turn in absentee ballots. It also allows the state to disqualify voters who accidentally vote in the wrong precinct. Republicans claim they are trying to prevent fraud, but the actual intention is clear when you recognize that local GOP officials routinely shift voting locations in minority neighborhoods – making it easier for these voters to accidentally run afoul of the new law.
These laws aren’t just in swing states, either. States like Arkansas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have all passed laws making it harder to vote by mail, on top of many other voting restrictions. This is an epidemic, and Democrats must use every means at their disposal to fight back before it’s too late.
Filibustering the filibuster
The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ most effective response to voter suppression is to pass a new federal voter protection law. Indeed, some of the very first bills put forth in the US House and Senate this year were to protect voting rights, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The bills have not seen much success because of Republican intransigence.
The most common solution to move past the GOP is changing the filibuster, which prevents any bill from moving forward in the Senate unless it has 60 supporters. Given the 50-50 split in the chamber, this effectively gives the Republican minority veto power over almost every bill brought to the Senate floor.
After the Supreme Court decision, Democrats are calling again for an end to the filibuster so that the voting rights law can pass. But that ship has sailed. The Democrats in the ideological center of the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have not moved on changing the filibuster. And with their stubbornness on the filibuster goes any chance of a new federal voting law.
Democrats across the country need to stop hoping that Congress or the courts will fix this problem. They won’t. Democrats need to take charge themselves.
Voter suppression boomerang
While efforts may be stymied at the federal level, Democrats do have a chance to harness the energy and outrage around voter suppression to increase voter turnout at the state and local level.
In Arizona, where casting a ballot in the wrong place can lead to disqualification, voter education campaigns are essential. The GOP technique only works to suppress the vote when voters don’t know their polling location. With solid organizing, Democrats can ensure every single voter knows where to cast their ballot.
In Georgia, ground zero for many false claims of election fraud, Democrats have already shown what it takes to fight back. Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight has been on the front lines of combating voter suppression. As a result, Georgia Democrats helped flip the White House and Senate in 2020. If Democrats are serious about combating voter suppression, they should set up a Fair Fight in every single state.
Perhaps the single largest step that Democrats can take to fight suppression and increase turnout is to invest in year-round organizing. In too many places, young Democratic staffers parachute in for one campaign cycle and then leave, forgoing the ability to forge the deep connections it takes to win over and help voters.
For the time being, Democrats can’t do anything about the Supreme Court. But the right to vote is precious, and we can use the threat of these new laws to inspire people to hold onto what’s theirs and fight back against Republican attempts to subvert democracy.
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania on Saturday blasted the Republican Party for endorsing restrictive voting bills across the country, describing the push for such legislation as forms of “white supremacy.”
During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Velshi,” the moderate lawmaker issued a dire warning about the state of elections in the US, just days after the Supreme Court upheld two restrictive voting laws in Arizona that had been challenged for violating Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Casey expressed that the Senate would likely have to alter its rules to move voting rights legislation through the chamber with 51 votes.
“We’re at a point of no return,” he said. “We’re either going to preserve our democracy, and thereby protect voter rights to preserve the democracy, or we’re not. Democrats have to stand up and get something done. I think we can do that, because it’s apparent to me that Republicans are just going to endorse these voter suppression bills.”
He added: “At its core, we should just be blunt about this, these voter suppression bills are about white supremacy.”
Casey said Republicans seemed to be working as “a one-or two-issue agenda party where they seem to be only interested in stopping [President] Joe Biden’s programs, especially on these caregiving issues and supporting voter suppression bills.”
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 6-3 to keep in place Arizona laws that toss provisional ballots filed at the wrong voting precinct and prevent third-party groups from returning mail ballots.
The former Arizona law was previously struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in January, with the judge ruling that it disproportionately affected Black, Latino and Indigenous voters.
Last week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a GOP-backed voting overhaul bill that would have changed election deadlines and strengthened voter identification requirements, among other measures.
During the MSNBC interview, Casey said that Republicans would continue to push similar pieces of legislation.
‘This is agenda item number one for the Republican Party,” he said. “This is going to be the norm, because Republicans have concluded that they can’t win by getting more votes. They can only win by voter suppression bills.”
Democrats have seen their legislative push for voting rights languish in recent months.
The For the People Act, the party’s marquee voting rights legislation, would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, establish national standards for voter registration, and blunt voter purges, among other things.
The bill would also mandate that states offer mail-in ballots and same-day voter registration, which Republicans have long resisted in many states.
However, late last month, an attempt to advance the legislation failed in the Senate, with all Republicans opposed to the bill.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, an elections bill which would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder, also faces a difficult path forward, with GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposed to the legislation.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Sunday blasted the Democrats’ sweeping voting-rights bill, saying that even a compromise hashed out by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia would not pass muster.
The “For the People Act,” also known as H.R.1 or S.1., would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, and establish national standards for voter registration, among other measures.
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Graham called the legislation “a bad idea” and dismissed Manchin’s efforts to attract Republican support by narrowing some of the provisions in the bill.
“In my view, S.R. 1 is the biggest power grab in the history of the country,” he said. “It mandates ballot harvesting, no voter ID. It does away with the states being able to redistrict when you have population shifts. It’s just a bad idea, and it’s a problem that most Republicans are not going to sign – they’re trying to fix a problem most Republicans have a different view of.”
“Congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials,” Manchin wrote last week.
Graham continued to give a thumbs down on Manchin’s proposal, despite his positive working relationship with the Democratic senator.
“Well, one, I like Joe Manchin a lot, but we had the largest turnout in the history of the United States, and states are in charge of voting in America, so I don’t like the idea of taking the power to redistrict away from the state legislators,” he said.
He added: “You’re having people move from blue states to red states. Under this proposal, you’d have some kind of commission redraw the new districts, and I don’t like that. I want states where people are moving to have control over how to allocate new congressional seats.”
While several Democratic-leaning states including Illinois and Pennsylvania are set to lose congressional districts due to population shifts, some Republican-dominated states are losing seats, as well. Ohio and West Virginia, which have trended “red” in recent election cycles, are each losing a congressional district.
Last week, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also panned the compromise proposal.
“I would make this observation about the revised version. … All Republicans, I think, will oppose that as well if that were to be what surfaced on the floor,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled a Tuesday vote that would start debate on the bill, despite the likelihood of a GOP-led filibuster.
The voting-rights bill would have to clear the 60-vote threshold to withstand a legislative filibuster and proceed to a vote where it could pass with a simple majority.
“Our goal remains crystal clear: Protect the right to vote, strengthen our democracy, and put a stop to the tide of voter suppression flooding across our country,” the New York Democrat said last week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Sunday said that she would not “give up” on fellow Democrat Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginia senator who last week came out against the party’s sweeping voting-rights bill.
The legislation would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, establish national standards for voter registration, and blunt voter purges, among other things.
Manchin also reaffirmed his support for the filibuster, a position that has become anathema to many Democrats after years of legislative gridlock in Congress.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Pelosi remained hopeful when it came to Manchin, despite his public statements.
“I don’t give up on Joe Manchin,” she told host Dana Bash. “When he was governor and Secretary of State in West Virginia, he initiated many of the initial ideas that are in the H.R. 1, S.1, the For the People Act.”
Pelosi expressed optimism in the Senate eventually passing the legislation, despite a chamber that is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and with the filibuster still in place to potentially derail the legislation.
“I read the op-ed and you read a part of it – I think he left the door open,” she said. “I think it’s ajar. I’m not giving up.”
She added: “I do know that he has certain concerns about the legislation that we may be able to come to terms on.”
Pelosi said that she’s had a conversation with Manchin about the legislation.
In March, the House passed the For the People Act in a near party-line 220-210 vote. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi was the sole Democrat who voted against the bill, and no Republicans crossed over to support the legislation.