WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden used the 100th anniversary of Tulsa’s race massacre to make a plea for sweeping legislation in Congress to protect the right to vote as Republican-led governments in Texas and other states pass new restrictions making it tougher to cast ballots.
Biden, marking the centennial in Oklahoma on Tuesday, called out two fellow Democrats in explaining why he hasn’t enacted some of the most ambitious elements of his agenda, noting that slim majorities in the House and evenly divided Senate have hamstrung legislative negotiations around key issues like voting rights.
Responding to critics who question why he hasn’t been able to get a wide-reaching voting rights bill passed, Biden lamented, “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House, and a tie in the Senate — with two members of the Senate who voted more with my Republican friends.”
It appeared to be a reference to Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom have frustrated Democrats with their defense of the filibuster. The rule requires most legislation to win 60 votes to pass, making many of Democrats’ biggest priorities like voting rights and gun control dead on arrival in the 50-50 Senate. While Sinema is a sponsor of the voting rights bill that passed the House, Manchin has refused to sign on, calling the measure “too broad.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday denied that Biden was blaming Manchin and Sinema for holding up the legislation. She said Biden does not see “eye to eye on every single detail of every issue” with every lawmaker, but that he simply was referencing the commentary he often hears on cable TV about the slow progress on legislation he wants to sign into law.
“I don’t think he was intending to convey anything other than a little bit of commentary on TV punditry,” Psaki told reporters after being pressed to explain what Biden meant.
But it’s not just Manchin and Sinema who oppose doing away with the filibuster, as many as 10 Democratic senators are reluctant to change the rules even for must-pass legislation such as the voting rights bill. Biden has not said he wants to end the filibuster.
Manchin and Sinema have voted with Biden on big bills, but Manchin has said he opposes the $15 minimum wage, he wouldn’t support Democrats’ voting rights bill, and has said the president’s job plan is too expensive. Both senators are from states with large Republican populations; Manchin’s Wet Virginia went to former Pres. Donald Trump in November by 30 points.
It’s unclear whether Biden’s comments will change the views of any senators, who are facing tough choices ahead as pressure mounts on them.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told colleagues that he would be bringing the voting rights bill to a vote the week of June 21, in effect testing where senators stand. Schumer warned in a letter to colleagues last week to brace for the month ahead.
Despite the logjam in Congress, Biden promised further action to address what he described as “a tireless assault on the right to vote,” comments that came in response to the latest effort by a state legislature to pass a law restricting voting access, this time in Texas. He said he would “fight like heck, with every tool at my disposal” to ensure the passage of the For the People Act when the Senate takes it up this month.
Biden has tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with leading the administration’s efforts to defend voting rights. It adds another high-profile fight to Harris’ fast-expanding portfolio, which includes addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, leading the National Space Council and working on expanding access to broadband internet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.