Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2021. (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Progressive lawmakers Friday joined a virtual news conference with organizers from the Poor People’s Campaign and said they are not giving up on the push to change Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival held the virtual meeting to kick off its plans for a Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls, on June 18.
Members of Congress in attendance included Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat.
Warren said that with Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate, they have the opportunity to pass legislation to help lift Americans out of poverty, pass the president’s social reform package known as Build Back Better, and pass legislation protecting voting rights.
“We have a chance to address this moral crisis,” she said. “We in the Senate have to step up.”
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival, said keeping the filibuster in place hurts all Americans.
“We are in a crisis of democracy,” he said. “We talk about the filibuster, about how it hurts Black people — the filibuster has hurt everybody in this country, Black folk, women, the labor movement.”
This past week, President Joe Biden lobbied for the Senate to change its rules to allow the passage of two voting rights bills with a simple majority rather than the 60-vote threshold required under Senate filibuster rules.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced late Thursday that the Senate on Tuesday will take up a House-passed bill that includes the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Schumer earlier had vowed to hold a vote by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.
“I will close with this: If the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the state level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?” he said on the Senate floor.
Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson, co-chair of the Unitarian Universalist Association Poor People’s Campaign Leadership Council, said at the press conference that most Americans support the John Lewis Voting Act, which would bolster the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The right to accessible voting is essential, she said. “We can’t get justice for our communities unless we get access to the ballot for all.”
Since the 2020 presidential election, Republican state legislators have introduced and passed dozens of laws that experts say restrict voting access to people of color, people with disabilities and rural communities. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law has tracked that from Jan. 1 to Dec. 7 of 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting voting access.
Schumer’s announcement came after Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced on the Senate floor Thursday that she would not back changing the current filibuster rules even though she does support the two voting rights bills.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, is also against changing filibuster rules. Both senators visited the White House Thursday night, but there was no indication they have changed their minds.
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