Biden speaks with senators on voting rights as Democrats move to prioritize legislation on the issue
WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden spoke privately with Democratic senators about voting rights on Thursday, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the talks, as the White House plots a path forward on a difficult issue in the face of immense pressure from within the party to produce legislative results.
The conversations came a day after Biden said there is “nothing domestically more important than voting rights,” even as the path to passing a bill to protect the right to vote faces significant obstacles in an evenly divided Senate.
Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif., were among the senators who spoke with Biden. Tester said Biden emphasized that legislation on the issue was “important for democracy.”
“I think it would be great to get a commitment before people leave town” for the holiday recess, Tester said. The Senate could adjourn as early as Thursday for the rest of the year.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe conversations that were not publicized, declined to specify the nature of Biden’s talks, but said that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is among the senators the president was planning to talk with about the matter.
The official said Biden will also have an update later on the path forward for the social spending legislation that is pending in the Senate.
Manchin is one of two senators that have emerged as key to any movement on voting rights. The other is Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both have voiced skepticism or opposition to changing Senate procedures in a way that would be needed to push voting rights priorities across the finish line.
With Republicans unified against Democrats plans, the only way to pass legislation is to alter Senate rules requiring a 60-vote threshold. That would mean all 50 Democrats uniting in favor of both a rule change and underlying legislation.
The White House did not have any immediate comment. Spokespeople for Manchin and Sinema did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Asked by The Washington Post Wednesday in Kentucky whether congressional Democrats should put off work on a sweeping social spending bill, which has been slowed by concerns from Manchin, Biden signaled potential openness.
“If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it. If we can’t, we’ve got to keep going. There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights.”
Biden will speak at South Carolina State University on Friday, where he said earlier this week he plans to emphasize the importance of protecting voting rights. The president has faced anger from civil rights leaders and others over the lack of legislative action this year.
The Biden administration has taken executive actions to combat GOP attempts to chip away at voting rights.