Voting rights activists challenge Biden, Democrats to walk and chew gum at the same time

EXCLUSIVE: Jamal Bryant, Alyssa Milano and 22 others were arrested by U.S. Secret Service outside the White House during Tuesday's demonstration

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Voting rights activists are calling President Joe Biden to task. Despite the present focus being on his Build Back Better plan in Washington, multiple groups are challenging the White House and Democrats in Congress to walk and chew gum at the same time and pass the massive spending bill and voting rights acts. 

U.S. President Joe Biden (2nd L) speaks as (L-R) Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) listen during an event on the American Rescue Plan in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Baltimore Urban Inspirational choir could be heard from the White House grounds as they sang “We shall Overcome” during the press briefing led by Press Secretary Jen Psaki. That choir and a host of activists marched up to the wrought iron gates that encircle the Executive Mansion just beyond the United States Secret Service (USSS) enforced perimeter.  

Actress Alyssa Milano, Ben Jealous, Rev. Jamal Bryant and 22 others were arrested on Tuesday for crossing USSS barriers. The series of arrests serve as another attempt to bring attention to voting rights and a need for President Biden to do more to get related legislation passed on Capitol Hill. The protesters are vowing for larger crowds until their demands are met.

Jamal Bryant, Alyssa Milano, Ben Jealous and voting rights activists
(Photo: Courtesy of Ben Jealous)

Next week, 100 people are expected to be arrested in front of the White House, theGrio learned from one of the event organizers, Ben Jealous, of People for the American Way.

Psaki on Tuesday assured the public that President Biden is “fully committed” to voting rights and is working “every relationship” and “lever” he can to move it forward. One lever and relationship that could be beneficial to the uphill push for voting rights legislation is a conversation with someone Biden once called friend, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has not budged on voting rights or any other effort of the Biden administration. This is not surprising as the swath of voting restriction laws passed by Republican state legislatures, as well as gerrymandering efforts used in redistricting of congressional maps, is seen as a political tool for Republicans to win back a majority in the U.S. House or Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, however on Tuesday, advocated for a procedural vote on the Freedom to Vote Act to move the politically contentious voting rights access issue forward to possible passage. Republicans are not in favor and two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are also blocking the road to passage in their refusal to support eliminating or reforming the filibuster rule to bypass Republican opposition.

Joe Biden and Joe Manchin
(Photo: Getty Images)

Additionally, President Biden’s day on Tuesday was filled with congressional meetings with at least part of the discussions touching on voting rights. It’s confirmed that Biden even took face-to-face meetings with Senators Manchin Sinema during this marathon talk cycle at the White House.

However, one meeting absent from the list is a sit-down with McConnell. From the briefing room podium, Psaki said she didn’t have a read out on a time for a meeting between Biden and McConnell, but she touted Biden’s “five decades” in Washington and relationships that can move the ball forward on voting rights and other issues. 

When asked what the president will do as he is not willing to deal with the filibuster and voting rights, Psaki said “he will do everything in his purview to make it happen.”

However, the president himself is not ready to blow up the filibuster, which stands as a delay tactic in the process.

While all this was happening on Tuesday inside and outside of the White House, there was also a meeting with the leadership of the National Bar Association and officials in the office of Vice President Kamala Harris. The subject of that meeting again was voting rights.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a virtual town hall with Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and care providers from the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Judge Carlos Moore, president of the National Bar Association, told theGrio after his meeting with the vice president: “Voting rights are sacrosanct to those of us in the Black community. The Black community delivered for both the Biden-Harris administration to occupy the White House and control the Senate. Now those in power must deliver for the Black community by any means necessary.”

The demand is clear, said Moore.

“The Senate must pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The National Bar Association is committed to strengthening voting rights in America and not going backwards but ever forward. The nation’s 67,000 Black lawyers and judges are fully committed to being strong tenacious advocates and litigators as we seek to protect unfettered access to the polls.”

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