“He lied”: Black activists shame Biden's new filibuster defense as "magical thinking"

Biden thinks he can win over Republicans. Voting rights advocates say he's ignoring reality

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published July 22, 2021 7:12PM (EDT)

US President Joe Biden participates in a CNN Town Hall hosted by Don Lemon at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 21, 2021. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden participates in a CNN Town Hall hosted by Don Lemon at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 21, 2021. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden drew backlash from fellow Democrats on Wednesday after defending the filibuster in the face of a Republican assault on voting access that he compared to "Jim Crow on steroids."

A recent college graduate pressed Biden on his defense of the filibuster rule during a CNN town hall in Cincinnati Wednesday, citing a nationwide Republican push to enact new voting restrictions that Biden himself has called "the most dangerous threat to voting in the integrity of free and fair elections in our history."

"While you have condemned these attacks, you and congressional members of your party have done little to actually stop these assaults," the graduate said. "If these efforts are really the 'most dangerous in our history,' isn't it logical to get rid of the filibuster so we can protect our democracy and secure the right to vote?"

Biden said he stands by his comments on the voting restrictions, pointing out that Georgia's recently-enacted law could have allowed the state legislature to block his election win in the state. And he acknowledged that "the abuse of the filibuster has been pretty overwhelming," noting that segregationist senators who used the filibuster had to hold the floor and speak for hours straight to sustain its use in the past.

"If it's a relic of Jim Crow, it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?" pressed CNN moderator Don Lemon.

"There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done," Biden replied. "Nothing at all will get done."

The comment drew intra-party ire from Democrats who have argued for months that eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation was their only hope of preventing Republican state lawmakers from subverting elections.

Former Obama White House aide Jon Favreau, who now hosts the podcast "Pod Save America," said Biden's response "makes no sense to me."

Republicans have already used the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act even after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., suggested a compromise offer to water down the legislation and add a national voter ID law to appease GOP critics. The filibuster likewise stands in the way of top Democratic priorities like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the union-boosting PRO Act, the civil rights-expanding Equality Act, immigration reform, and statehood for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Biden's defense of the filibuster undercuts his voting rights push and suggests "the entire speech was a lie," argued Cliff Albright, a cofounder of the Black Voters Matter Fund.

"He expects community activists—particularly Black activists—to simply recreate the Herculean effort that it took to mobilize voters in 2020," Albright tweeted. "And to do so in spite of historic new voter suppression. He lied when he said he'd have our backs."

Former Obama White House ethics chief Walter Shaub, a senior fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, fumed at Biden's remarks.

"These old white guys who've spent their lives in politics are never going to get it," he tweeted. " Racism and oppression just don't matter that much to them. They know they'll survive fascism. The camps won't be for them. And their goofy kids can sell art for half a mil a pop," an apparent reference to Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, and his recent foray into the art world

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., laughed when she was asked about Biden's suggestion that eliminating the filibuster would cause "chaos."

"Right now, Mitch McConnell uses the filibuster to veto any forward progress he doesn't like," she told reporters. "We have to be realistic how the filibuster is used."

Biden argued during Wednesday's town hall that he wants to "bring along Republicans who I know know better" and that he does not want to get voting rights "wrapped up" in a debate over the filibuster.

"But isn't that the only way you're going to get it done right now?" Lemon asked.

"No, I don't believe that. I think we can get it done," Biden replied.

It would be a surprise to anyone paying attention if Biden can find 10 Republican votes in the Senate to defeat a filibuster and advance voting rights legislation — a situation that looks increasingly unlikely.

Every Republican member of the Senate voted to block debate on the For the People Act just last month and only Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has backed the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

"What are their names? Name the Republicans who know better," Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in response to Biden's claim. "This is not a strategy. The time for magical thinking is over."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2020 Election Aggregate Filibuster For The People Act Joe Biden Joe Manchin Politics Voting Rights