(Trends Wide) — US President Joe Biden’s new promise to save democracy faces an immediate test at home and abroad this week, with a far-reaching boost to voting rights and US diplomacy more critical of Russia. since the Cold War.
With his forceful speech last week, on the anniversary of the January 6 uprising, Biden appeared to engineer a political pivot, putting his credibility on the line to pass new legislation to reverse Republican voter suppression bills and restore the minority voting rights. This Tuesday he will travel to Atlanta, a city synonymous with the civil rights movement, to try to dislodge the “dagger” that, as he suggested, former President Donald Trump and his Republican Party have “at the throat of our democracy.”
But to succeed, Biden must find a way to overcome the hurdle that has so far also derailed his climate and social spending agenda: opposition to changing the Senate filibustering rules among moderate Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Synema.
The Biden administration is also engaged in important work abroad, with a flurry of talks with Russia amid warnings from the United States that President Vladimir Putin may be poised to invade a fledgling democracy: Ukraine. The Kremlin is using its former satellite state as a pawn in a ploy aimed at driving NATO out of Eastern European democracies that once fell within its orbit during the Cold War.
US efforts to convince Russia to withdraw will have huge implications for the geopolitical situation in Europe. And Biden’s struggle for influence with Putin is all the more ironic in that the Russian leader doesn’t just threaten democracy across the Atlantic. The US intelligence services accuse him of interfering in the US elections to help Trump, the former president who ended up trying to deny the will of the voters in 2020 with an attempted coup and who often genuflected before the leader. Russian.
The talks in Europe, and Biden’s ability to unravel the voting rights puzzle in Washington, will be an indicator of his presidential clout as he tries to bounce back from a political slump. The stakes in the voting rights initiative are huge as it tests Democrats’ ability to protect access to the franchise, especially for minority voters, which is under threat from legislatures. led by the Republican Party inspired by Trump’s lies. And the administration’s two-pronged push will go a long way toward deciding the outcome in the United States and internationally of a presidency Biden dedicated to safeguarding global democracy that he says is under mortal threat.
A total boost to the right to vote
Voting rights often seemed less of a priority than other issues on Biden’s agenda in a first year in office dominated by the pandemic and ambitious spending proposals, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed and the stalled bill. of the social safety net.
But both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Atlanta to drum up support for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The first bill would make Election Day a public holiday, require same-day registration and allow all voters to apply to vote by mail, among other provisions. It would also reverse the partisan takeover of election administration contained in some recent GOP laws in the states. This latest bill would restore federal government oversight of state voting laws, destroyed by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision.
With Republicans universally opposed to the Free Voting Act and with only one of their senators, Lisa Murkowski, backing the measure named after civil rights hero and late Democratic Rep. John Lewis, Democrats must get around the Republican use of the filibuster that requires a supermajority of 60 votes to pass most important laws. But Manchin, from West Virginia, and Sinema, from Arizona, were reluctant to relax the rules of filibustering.
Many Democrats are pleading with them to relent, arguing that a cascade of voter suppression laws passed by Republican-ruled states poses an existential threat to free and fair elections that can only be reversed by federal action on what may be the final months of Democratic power before the midterm elections in November.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, has promised to hold a vote before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Supporters of the legislation are pushing to limit filibustering for a voting rights review and are trying to get Manchin on the bandwagon, especially considering he wrote the Free Vote Act himself, after Republicans opposed an earlier bill containing broader reforms.
“He drew it up and they still refuse to support it, so he’s got all the coverage he needs to walk away and do what we need to do, and that’s provide the 49th vote and I hope the 50th vote comes through,” the chief said on Saturday. House Majority Leader James Clyburn on Trends Wide’s “Newsroom.”
Speaking to Fox Network’s Bret Baier, the South Carolina Democrat ratcheted up the pressure on Manchin. He said he agreed with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren that filibustering in the Senate had “deep roots in racism” and should not be allowed to cement a minority veto.
Manchin last week dealt a blow to the hopes of voting reform advocates like Clyburn, a key figure in rescuing Biden’s then-languishing presidential campaign in early 2020 and a leading ambassador for black voters.
“I’ve always been in favor of rules being made the way we always have, with two-thirds of the members voting,” Manchin told Trends Wide’s Jake Tapper. He warned that eliminating filibustering would hurt Democrats if Republicans regain control of the Senate. “The reason I say it’s intense is that once you change a rule or try to make a place for yourself – and I’ve always said this – every time you try to find your place, you end up killing everything. There is nothing left because it comes and goes.”
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday put more pressure on recalcitrant senators from her party, outlining voting laws in Republican states, which in many cases make it difficult to cast ballots and make it easier for voters to interfere. politicians in the elections, as a “very important threat to our democracy”.
“They’re not just suppressing the vote…they’re nullifying the election,” the California Democrat said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accuse Democrats of threatening the right of states to run their own elections. However, many of the new state laws are justified on the grounds of “electoral integrity,” a code word that has its origin in Trump’s lies about voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, which have been debunked on multiple occasions. .
Russia and China believe that “democracy’s days are numbered”
On Thursday, during his Jan. 6 anniversary speech in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, Biden warned that foreign enemies were watching to see if the United States would safeguard its own democracy under a threat unprecedented in modern times.
“From China to Russia and beyond, they are betting that democracy’s days are numbered,” Biden said. “They’re betting that America is a place for the autocrat, the dictator, the strongman.”
Two of the most dangerous challenges in US foreign policy involve two democracies – Taiwan and Ukraine – pinning their hopes of survival on support from Washington, as they exist under threat from much more powerful and proprietary autocracies, China and Russia.
Biden personally warned Putin at several virtual summits of devastating sanctions if he orders tens of thousands of Russian military personnel into Ukraine to follow up on Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. U.S. officials will deliver the same message in talks this week. which began on Sunday with a working dinner between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Geneva.
The talks resumed on Monday. Two days later, the NATO-Russia Council will meet in Brussels. The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes Russia and the United States, meets on Thursday.
But there is little hope of progress. The United States argues that Russia is demanding concessions that would permanently weaken NATO in Europe with its calls for the withdrawal of troops and weapons from former Warsaw Pact nations. Moscow also wants assurances that Ukraine – a former Soviet republic – will never be allowed to join the alliance.
“It’s hard to see real progress, rather than talk, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Tapper on “State of the Union.” “, on Sunday.
Ryabkov was equally disheartened, saying he was “disappointed” by the signals from Washington and Brussels. “In short, they reflect a lack of understanding of what we need,” he said before laying out a wish list the West will never accept. “We need legal guarantees, legal guarantees that NATO will not expand further, remove everything that the alliance has created, fueled by anti-Russian phobias and all kinds of misconceptions about what is the essence of Russian policy for the period since 1997. “.
His warning had a chilling resonance of the late 20th century clashes between two ideologically opposed superpowers. Although talk of a second Cold War now usually refers to the construction of a US confrontation with China and not with Russia, there is a big difference between the period between the end of World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Back then, the challenge to American democracy came mostly from abroad. Now, she is besieged at home.