Biden could be ready to support eliminating filibuster to protect voting rights

EXCLUSIVE: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with civil rights groups on Thursday to address the wave of state bills making it more difficult for Black communities to vote

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Civil rights leaders descended on the White House for a meeting focused on voting rights on Thursday. What’s more, sources close to the meeting say President Joe Biden appears closer to supporting the elimination of the filibuster — an issue progressives have long argued stands in the way of passing crucial voting rights bills and that advocates have been pressing since the balance of power in Congress shifted.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an East Room event on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan at the White House July 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

According to the sources, Vice President Kamala Harris maintained a “strong” role in the meeting. 

Earlier on Thursday, the vice president announced at Howard University that the Democrats are making a $25 million investment to expand their “I Will Vote” campaign. Speaking to the crowd at the HBCU campus on the challenges of anti-voting rights laws that have been passed by Republicans in over a dozen state legislatures so far, Harris said “it is never too early to defend our rights.”

“These laws create obstacle upon obstacle,” Harris said. “These laws make it harder for you to vote because they don’t want you to vote.”

“We see right now with the Republican Party, they’re trying to do everything that they possibly can to restrict that,” Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee told theGrio exclusively at the event. “We’ve been down that road before as Americans, we’re not going back down that way. We will not allow our voting rights to be sacrificial lambs for other people’s political priorities.”

This comes as civil rights leaders are pledging to take this effort to the streets with activation to educate about what Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund calls a “grave” issue. To underscore the urgency of the summer-long effort, Reverend Al Sharpton dubbed the initiative a “summer of activism, a summer of getting back in the streets.”

Although the summer is considered a tough time to push legislation through Congress, the reverend is looking for the activism to say to lawmakers, “you may be going home, but it’s going to be warmer politically than you think on the ground.” 

The leaders also said they are open to meeting with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is holding up much of their efforts on voting rights and police reform.

Marc Morial of the National Urban League told the press that McConnell likes to remind others that he was an intern on Capitol Hill when the Civil Rights Act was passed in both chambers and signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.

Civil rights leader Marc Morial of the National Urban League speaks as (L-R) Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference for Civil & Human Rights, Johnnetta B. Cole of the National Council of Negro Women, the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund listen at a briefing outside the West Wing of the White House following a meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris July 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Ifill said during the presidential meeting that she gave the history of civil rights to President Biden to give him a full view and context of the problem of voting rights. Ifill, whose name is being floated around as a possible nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court said they are in court with challenges against the new Georgia and Florida restrictive voting laws. 

When asked if she would do the same for Republican Senator Tim Scott, Ifill said she spoke to the South Carolina senator last summer and just a few weeks ago on another civil rights issue, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and the overall urgency for accountability. She poignantly said of Sen. Scott and the issue she raised that “still at this point he does not fully understand the scope” of the issues. 

Ifill told theGrio that they are on two different sides of the issue.

Civil rights leader Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund speaks outside the West Wing of the White House following a meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris July 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The White House has been relying on coalitions to help with the heavy-lift to get Republicans, as well as Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to agree to move forward with the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Additional pressure has resulted from Republican legislatures pushing forward with restrictive voting laws in states like Texas, Georgia and Florida.

“The assault we’re witnessing on democracy, unfolding in states across the nation, ignores and shatters the centuries of progress for fairness at the ballot box,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who joined the meeting virtually. “One thing is clear, if our votes were not important, they would not be fighting tooth and nail to suppress them.”

To close out the press conference, Melanie Campbell of National Coalition for Black Civic Participation and Sharpton told reporters they are confident that they will secure the passage of voting rights legislation. 

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