Vice President Kamala Harris has been assigned a Herculean task: Protect the right to vote from an onslaught of GOP-backed restrictions.
States have already enacted a record number of voting restrictions this year, and more are sure to come. Dozens of such measures, largely pushed by Republicans, continue to advance in statehouses across the country.
Voting rights advocates say the way to protect states from these new voting barriers is to pass significant legislation at the federal level, such as the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. But as long the filibuster rule remains intact, these bills are essentially dead on arrival in the Senate.
After being tapped to take on voting rights, Harris said in a statement that she will work with Congress to advance the two major reform bills.
"President Joe Biden asked me to help lead our Administration's effort to protect the fundamental right to vote for all Americans," Harris said. "In the days and weeks ahead, I will engage the American people, and I will work with voting rights organizations, community organizations, and the private sector to help strengthen and uplift efforts on voting rights nationwide."
The House version of the For the People Act was passed by Democrats in March and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last week that he would put the sweeping democracy reform legislation up for a vote at the end of June. But Republicans are planning to filibuster the bill, meaning 60 votes would be required to end debate and pass the bill. In the 50-50 Senate, where every Democrat except Joe Manchin of West Virginia has cosponsored the legislation, that's a near impossibility.
With Harris now at the helm of the national voting rights effort and pressure mounting from state legislatures, the call from reform advocates to end the Senate filibuster grows louder every day.
Eliminating the filibuster would lower the voting threshold to a simple majority and give the For the People Act better odds of passing along party lines, with Harris as the tie-breaking vote. Even that may not be possible because Manchin and Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema have said they oppose scrapping the filibuster and Manchin wants any reform legislation to be bipartisan.
Recent events at the Capitol and across the country have turned up the heat on Democrats to toss out the filibuster. Last week, a bill supporting an independent investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection failed to pass in the Senate, despite garnering bipartisan support. And over the weekend, Democratic state lawmakers in Texas protested a vote on a restrictive election measure, but the threat of it passing in a special session remains.
A coalition of more than 120 self-styled "scholars of democracy" penned a letter Tuesday urging immediate federal action to protect American democracy from the litany of GOP-backed restrictive voting bills. The signatories include political science and government professors from universities such as Stanford, Harvard and Cornell.
"We have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election," the scholars wrote. "Collectively, these initiatives are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections."
The scholars implore Congress to do "whatever is necessary — including suspending the filibuster — in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want."
- Public support for HR 1 not reflected in Congress' one-sided fight for ›
- Political divisions over Jan. 6 commission fuel dysfunction - The ... ›
- Democratic ticket hasn't pushed the reform agenda - The Fulcrum ›
During the 2020 election, the strength of American democracy was put to the test several times. While democracy ultimately prevailed, many Republicans in Congress failed to support it.
The Republican Accountability Project, an anti-Trump conservative group, released a report this week analyzing how GOP members acted during crucial moments as the election results were being certified. More than half the Republicans in Congress received failing grades for their actions.
This report highlights the current divide in the Republican Party between those who still support former President Donald Trump and those who do not.
The report evaluated all 50 Republican senators and 211 GOP House members (excluding Rep. Julia Letlow of Louisiana because she was not in office at the time) based on four criteria:
- Did they sign on to the amicus brief filed in support of Texas' lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to nullify votes cast in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia?
- Did they object to the certification of Electoral College votes from at least one state?
- Did they make public statements that cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election?
- Did they vote to hold Trump accountable via impeachment or conviction?
Only 16 Republicans (seven senators and nine House members) received an A, which the report described as "excellent."
Thirteen House members received a B, or an "okay" grade. No senators earned a B.
Fifty-eight Republicans (30 senators and 28 House members) received a C for "mediocre." This group includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is ranking member of the Rules and Administration Committee. Both have been instrumental in blocking democracy reform legislation from advancing in the Senate.Thirty-eight Republicans (five senators and 33 House members) received a D for "poor."
While just eight senators were given an F for "very poor," 60 percent of the House GOP (128 members) received a failing grade.
"Our Capitol was attacked by a mob that believed that the 2020 election was being stolen. They were encouraged by the lies and actions of President Trump and many Republican members of Congress," the report says. "In the name of accountability, it's vitally important we remember which Congressional Republicans stood with democracy and the Constitution, and which did not."
- Why McConnell wants the GOP to accept the election results - The ... ›
- End Citizens United ranks lawmakers on democracy reform - The ... ›
- U.S. rated a 'flawed democracy' for 5th straight year - The Fulcrum ›
Democracy reform advocates are taking to the airwaves once again in the hopes of bolstering the For the People Act's chances in the Senate.
A coalition of 15 labor groups, environmental advocates and progressive organizations launched a $1 million advertising campaign on Monday to promote the sweeping democracy reform legislation nationally and in targeted states.
As more than 360 restrictive voting bills are being considered in nearly every state, the campaign highlights how the For the People Act could protect voting rights and expand voting access nationwide. But with the filibuster still intact, passage requires getting all 50 Democratic senators and at least 10 of their Republican colleagues on board — a nearly impossible task.
The Democracy For All 2021 Action coalition created 30-second ads to run in three states. Each one features a voter sharing their story: a disabled veteran in Arizona, a hotel worker in Georgia and a civics teacher in New Hampshire.
The campaign focuses on these three states because they have seen a high volume of restrictive voting legislation, even by this year's standards. Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire each have two Democratic senators, and all six have indicated support for S 1, as the For the People Act is known in the Senate. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, however, has presented a challenge to the legislation's passage by opposing elimination of the filibuster.
These ads will be broadcast on TV through Sunday and online through next Monday. In addition to the three select states, the ads will call on all senators to support the legislation through ad spots in D.C. and nationally digital media placements.
The For the People Act is expected to get its first Senate debate in May when the Rules and Administration Committee considers the legislation. House Democrats passed their version of the bill in March.
"Black and Brown voters came out in record numbers in the most secure elections we have ever experienced. But now, politicians who are afraid of the power of voters who do not look or think like them are doing everything they can to entrench their power in spite of the will of the people," said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, one of the groups in the coalition. "This new rash of voter suppression is modern day Jim Crow, plain and simple. We must pass the For the People Act to protect civil rights and advance the fight for racial justice."
Another ad campaign supporting the For the People Act ran earlier in the year and aimed to put pressure on Democrats in purple districts.
The 15 groups involved in this latest ad campaign are the American Federation of Teachers, Center for Popular Democracy, Demos Action, Latino Victory Fund, League of Conservation Voters, MoveOn, NAACP, National Education Association, NextGen America, SEIU, Sierra Club, Supermajority, UFCW, UNITE HERE and the Working Families Party.
- Partisan standoff at Senate's first hearing on HR 1 - The Fulcrum ›
- End Citizens United makes proactive game plan to pass HR 1 - The ... ›
- HR 1 ad campaign focuses on keeping Democrats in line - The ... ›
Growing up in Milwaukee, Steven Olikara felt that playing music was the only way to bring people of all backgrounds and ideologies together — until he was inspired to launch the Millennial Action Project.
Believing the trend toward polarization had put American democracy on perilous footing, Olikara decided to translate his musical performances into political involvement on a national scale. In 2013, he officially launched MAP with the hopes that the next generation could bridge the political divide and put America on the right path forward.
Now, after nearly a decade at the helm, Olikara has stepped down as both he and the organization enter new chapters. On Wednesday, the organization announced as his successor Layla Zaidane, who previously served as MAP's executive director and COO. As for Olikara's next steps, the 31-year-old has his sights set on a potential Senate run next year when Republican Ron Johnson's seat is up for election.
"I'll be focused on how we can raise the consciousness of our politics and how we can bring the MAP model to a new level in our country," Olikara said. "I'm very deeply engaged in how that model can make a positive impact in my home state of Wisconsin."
His name is one of several that have been thrown out as possible Democratic contenders for Wisconsin's hotly contested Senate seat. Others include: Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry and state Sen. Chris Larson of Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
There's a chance Johnson, who is in his second term, may not seek re-election, which would dial up the competitiveness of that race. The 65-year-old senator has said previously that he intended to serve only two terms, but he has not yet made an official decision. If Johnson decides to retire, his open seat would be one of two in a state that went to Donald Trump in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020. (The other is held by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, who announced his retirement last October.)
Regardless of where Olikara's political career takes him, he will stay involved with MAP as founder and senior advisor. (Olikara also serves on the board of directors for Issue One, which owns, but is journalistically independent from, The Fulcrum.) Over the last few months, he has been transitioning out of his leadership position while MAP's board of directors vetted more than 100 candidates for the role.
Ultimately, Zaidane was chosen because "there was no one quite so intimately connected or committed to MAP's mission and vision as Layla," board Chair Nicholas Maschari said in announcing her promotion.
Since joining MAP in 2016, Zaidane said, she has been "truly inspired by MAP's vision of a more inclusive democracy, led by young people."
As the new CEO, Zaidane will continue to grow the organization's Future Caucus Network, a bipartisan coalition of young legislators from across the country. Through this work, MAP and its caucus members will develop future-oriented solutions on issues such as climate change, criminal justice and democracy reform.
"It's hard to imagine a more important time for our country to move beyond the partisan framework that's defined our politics for far too long, and I am honored to be leading MAP and our network of young legislators in this movement," she said.
Zaidane, before joining MAP, was managing director of the youth-oriented Generation Progress and a marketing specialist for LivingSocial. She earned a degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
During his time leading MAP, Olikara said his biggest accomplishments came when he saw the hard work of his staff and legislators in the Future Caucus pay off.
"Often it happens behind the scenes where they exhibit tremendous political courage to get a bill over the finish line or when they reach across the aisle to build a coalition," he said. "That always speaks deeply to the possibilities of this movement, so it's these stories of growth and leadership that, to me, are the most personally meaningful."
And millennials' impact on politics will only continue to grow. Last year's election saw more victories from young candidates than ever before: 1,641 people under the age of 45 were elected to state legislatures — representing nearly a quarter of the total seats. And 81 young members from both parties, including 23 freshmen and 58 incumbents, were elected to the House of Representatives.
Plus, Democrat Jon Ossoff won his January runoff in Georgia, making him at age 33 the youngest person elected to the Senate since Joe Biden in 1972. Another young senator, 43-year-old Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas, was re-elected last year.
Olikara is hoping these young representatives will help inject new life into politics and political decision-making. One of the biggest problems MAP has tried to tackle from the outset is what he calls the "short-termism" of politics.
"It's all about short-term wins and short-term fixes, often at the expense of the long-term health of our country," he said. "It's been too politically convenient for our leaders to just kick the can down the road on a lot of generational problems, whether it's climate change or the national debts or preparing our workforce for the jobs of the future."
Having young people represented in state legislatures and Congress, Olikara said, is going to have a huge impact on policymaking because their generation brings different life experiences and ideas.
Reflecting on his time at MAP, Olikara said there is no person better suited to lead the organization into its next chapter than Zaidane.
"For over four years, Layla has been by my side for every major decision at MAP. She brought energy, conviction and dedication to her role first as COO and then as executive director & COO," he said. "As I step down from serving as CEO at the organization I helped found over eight years ago, I'm proud to pass the baton to such a capable leader. It's honestly a dream come true."
- Millennial Action Projects awards 3 for cross-party efforts - The ... ›
- Younger House members prove to be a bit more bipartisan - The ... ›
- Steven Olikara, cultivator of young and centrist leaders - The Fulcrum ›
- 'Reunited States' now available on Amazon Prime - The Fulcrum ›