On Voting Rights, Joe Biden Takes His Biggest Gamble Yet

President Joe Biden will deliver a major speech on voting rights when he visits Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday in what may be the biggest gamble of his presidency so far.

Faced with an evenly divided Senate, Biden is set to support a change to the filibuster that would allow the passage of key voting rights legislation and prevent Republicans from killing proposed elections bills.

Though he isn't expected to call for the outright abolition of the parliamentary mechanism, Biden will be taking a political risk as he endorses a "carve out" for voting rights measures.

Biden's remarks on Tuesday will directly address the filibuster and cite "repeated obstruction" by Republicans, an official who previewed the speech told The New York Times.

The president will say the filibuster has protected "extreme attacks on the most basic constitutional right."

The White House released excerpts from the speech on Tuesday morning.

"The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice?" Biden will say in Atlanta.

"I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?" the president will say.

Georgia is one of 19 states that have introduced new voting restrictions since the 2020 election. Biden will reportedly discuss the effect some of those new laws are having on access to voting.

Biden's speech may be a major gamble after a year where Democrats struggled to pass key parts of his legislative agenda. The $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act has passed the House of Representatives but has stalled in the Senate due in part to concerns from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Manchin, who is considered a moderate or conservative Democrat, will also be key to introducing any changes to the filibuster—the procedure that allows a minority to block legislation unless there are 60 votes to advance it.

The West Virginia senator has strongly opposed any changes to the filibuster, as has Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who frequently supports Manchin's positions. Both will be needed in order to pass changes to the procedure in the 50-50 Senate.

Biden's proposals could be doomed to fail if he cannot convince both Manchin and Sinema to support filibuster reform. It is unlikely that any Senate Republicans will break with their party and support the change.

Voting rights groups have called on Democrats to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights (Advancement) Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, but this may not be possible without filibuster reform. Some of those groups have said they will not attend Biden's speech on Tuesday and criticized the administration's perceived inaction thus far.

With the Build Back Better Act still languishing in the Senate and ongoing tensions between moderate and progressive Democrats, Biden appears to be setting his party up for another potentially contentious fight that may ultimately end in the president's defeat.

Midterm elections will take place in November and Republicans are aiming to take back the House and Senate. A win on voting rights might boost Democrats' chance but a defeat could potentially have negative consequences for the president's party.

If the GOP regains one or both chambers of Congress, they could stymie Biden's agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has set a deadline of January 17—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—for senators to vote on changes to the rules if the GOP prevents the passage of voting rights legislation.

It remains to be seen if Manchin and Sinema will support such a change.

Biden Joins a Call on COVID-19
President Joe Biden joins the White House COVID-19 Response Teams regular call with the National Governors Association to discuss his administrations response to the Omicron variant and to hear from the Governors on the needs in their States at the White House in Washington, DC on December 27, 2021. Biden will deliver a major speech on voting rights in Georgia on Tuesday. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

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