Progressive Democrats are stewing after one of their top priorities, a massive elections bill, stalled in the Senate Tuesday – and they’re directing their ire at several targets, including Republicans, the Senate filibuster and even President Biden, who they allege didn’t do enough to stump for the legislation.
“He’s not absent, but he needs to be a lot more vocal and a lot more out front. The president supports H.R.1, the American people support H.R. 1 overwhelmingly. The president needs to lead out front and be very vocal on this issue.” Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., told CNN Tuesday of the president’s involvement on election reform.
Democrats’ sweeping proposal is titled the For the People Act and has been given the bill number H.R.1 in the House and S.1 in the Senate. Bowman’s comments came before the cloture vote Tuesday evening that officially blocked the bill in the Senate but after it was clear all 50 Senate Republicans would oppose it.
Bowman, one of the newly elected members of the left-wing “Squad,” said both Biden and Vice President Harris are former senators who should be leveraging their relationships in the chamber to push S.1, as he claimed they did on a bill to make Juneteenth an official holiday.
“The same conversations need to happen when it comes to S.1,” Bowman told CNN. “The same relationships need to be used that the president has built over the course of his career to make sure we pass S.1.”
Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., meanwhile, said it’s not clear to him the president is serious about voting reform. Biden “just sort of stared at me,” Jones told the Associated Press about an interaction between the two men after Jones told Biden he needed to be bolder in lobbying for S.1.
“President Obama, for his part, has been doing more to salvage our ailing democracy than the current president of the United States of America,” Jones said.
The White House has pushed back against the criticism. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden is “passionate” about voting legislation and is “absolutely revolted” by election security bills being passed by Republican state legislatures. As evidence, she cited an executive order signed by the president, a speech he gave in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the anniversary of the 1921 race massacre there, and recent enforcement actions taken by the Justice Department on voting laws.
And Biden himself excoriated Republicans in a Tuesday night statement after they unanimously filibustered S.1, which they characterize as a massive federal power grab over state election authority that’s designed to help keep Democrats in power.
Democrats, Biden said, “stood against the ongoing assault of voter suppression that represents a Jim Crow era in the 21st century.”
But the president is hardly the only contributing factor to S.1’s defeat that the left is lamenting. Among them is the filibuster itself, which left-leaning Democrats have been agitating to get rid of.
“If there is no Republican support to protect the rights of people of color, young people, people with disabilities to cast a ballot, the United States Senate has got to act and if it takes 50 votes and the vice president, that’s what it takes,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in response to a question from Fox News about the filibuster Tuesday.
“We’ve got to find a way to pass voting rights and I’m deeply committed to that,” Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., also said. “No Senate rule is more important than the constitutional right to vote.”
“Call me radical, but I do not believe a minority of Senators should be able to block voting rights for millions of people,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said.
“The people did not give Democrats the House, Senate and White House to compromise with insurrectionists,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said. “Abolish the filibuster so we can do the people’s work.”
“Our democracy is more important than the Senate filibuster,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted.
Others, meanwhile, also directed their fire at the Republicans who used the filibuster.
“Mitch McConnell and the desperate Republican minority just silenced the American people, sold out our elections to their billionaire donors, and defended corruption that is rotting government to its core,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has shifted to the left in recent years, did not mention the filibuster but he equated Republicans with racist senators during the civil rights era.
“Every single Senate Republican just voted against starting debate – starting debate – on legislation to protect Americans’ voting rights,” Schumer said. “The Republican leader uses the language and the logic of the Southern Senators of the 1960s who defended states’ rights, and it is an indefensible position for any senator – any senator, let alone the minority leader – to hold… That is both ridiculous and awful.”
It’s not clear what Democrats’ next step will be amid united GOP opposition to changing election rules. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said he hopes public pressure can change some minds.
“I like to believe that there’s always a way to make sure that the public will gets accomplished,” he told Fox News.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.