Talking Points

Biden is all talk, no action on voting rights

President Biden sure sounds like he understands the stakes. Tuesday afternoon, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Biden is set to make the "moral case" for a vigorous defense of voting rights in the face of "the greatest threat to the right to vote and the integrity of our elections since the Civil War." If Biden is right, then the moment calls for an urgent response, using all the methods available to him.

But Biden refuses to reach for the most obvious tool: Pushing his party to eliminate the Senate filibuster, or at least to carve out an exception for voting rights legislation. 

"The president's view continues to be aligned with what he has said in the past," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, "which is that he has not supported the elimination of the filibuster because it has been used as often the other way around."

With the filibuster in place — and in the face of a Republican commitment to making it more difficult for Democratic constituencies to vote — there is no way Congress will be able to strengthen the nation's voting laws. Progressives have criticized Biden for refusing to campaign against the filibuster. Even one of the president's closest allies, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) has publicly pleaded for him to work for a carveout. So far, at least, Biden hasn't budged.

Biden's speech comes as Democrats in the Texas legislature have fled their state for Washington, D.C., in order to deny a quorum for a special session designed for Republicans to pass new restrictions on voting. It is a desperate move, and probably unsustainable over the long term. "We want the nation to join us," said State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, "and we want the U.S. Senate to hear us and act."

The Senate won't act, though, without filibuster reform. Which means that Texas Democrats are offering America a vision of all that's really possible: Delaying actions that slow, but don't stop, the steady decline of democracy. Biden can't force the end of the filibuster — the Senate makes its own rules — but he can bring pressure to bear. He has chosen not to. All we're left with is speeches.