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Biden to make personal plea to Democrats to unify and pass voting rights

Biden and most fellow Democrats have ratcheted up their campaign to pass voting-rights legislation after spending much of his first year in office debating spending bills focused on COVID-19 relief, infrastructure and social safety net programs.

U.S. President Joe Biden boards Air force one as he departs from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
U.S. President Joe Biden boards Air force one to depart from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 11, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

U.S. President Joe Biden will seek to rally Senate Democrats in a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to unite and alter the chamber's rules to pass voting-rights legislation.

Biden and most fellow Democrats have ratcheted up their campaign to pass voting-rights legislation after spending much of his first year in office debating spending bills focused on COVID-19 relief, infrastructure and social safety net programs.

Democrats see the voting rights bills as a last chance to counter new voting restrictions in Republican-controlled states ahead of the Nov. 8 congressional elections, when they run the risk of losing their narrow majorities in at least one chamber.

Former Democratic President Barack Obama wrote in a USA Today op-ed on Thursday that the Senate's "filibuster" rule, which requires 60 of the 100 senators to agree on most legislation, has become a common tool for the chamber's minority to block important progress on issues supported by the majority of voters.

"We can’t allow it to be used to block efforts to protect our democracy. That’s why I fully support President Joe Biden’s call to modify Senate rules as necessary to make sure pending voting rights legislation gets called for a vote," Obama wrote.

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Democrats, who hold just 50 seats, remain divided on how to get around the rule that has hampered them.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday outlined a strategy to ensure a Senate floor debate on voting rights, after three separate attempts last year were stymied by Republicans.

Under the plan, the House of Representatives will soon repackage two elections-related bills into one and pass it. It would then go to the Senate under a special procedure preventing Republicans from blocking debate.

If Republicans remain opposed, that bill would not pass the Senate unless all Democrats agree to change the filibuster, he said. At least two Democrats are opposed to a rule change.

Republican Senators hold press conference following weekly luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens during a press conference following the weekly Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 11, 2022.
EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday reiterated that Republicans oppose voting-rights legislation and changes to the filibuster.

McConnell also criticized Biden for a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday pushing for an overhaul of the filibuster to pass voting rights bills, calling it "incoherent, incorrect and beneath his office."

Republican lawmakers in 19 states have passed dozens of laws making it harder to vote.

The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act together would make Election Day a holiday, expand access to mail-in voting and strengthen U.S. Justice Department oversight of local election jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.

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(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool.)

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