Joe Biden's voting rights theater

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Joe Biden's voting rights theater
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There's a lot of performance going on in Democratic circles on the issue of voting rights. Texas Democrats fled their state to stop a voting bill written by majority Republicans that everyone knows will pass in the end.

At the same time, national Democratic leaders from President Joe Biden down are employing extreme rhetoric in support of a voting bill, the For the People Act, that everyone knows will not pass in the end.

The For the People Act, known as S. 1 in the Senate, is widely considered a "messaging" bill. It is a wish list of measures that please the party's liberal wing and send an aspirational message but does not have any chance of actually becoming law.

So, S. 1 contains measures for the federalization of elections, public financing of campaigns, national mail-in voting, prohibiting voter ID requirements, allowing ballot harvesting, and more.

The House has already passed its version of the bill, H.R. 1, on a party-line vote. That won't happen in the Senate, where S. 1 does not even have the support of all 50 Democrats.

Rather, the hope among party leaders is that, in the aftermath of the failed bill, less extreme measures might be able to pass. To that point, a recent article on S. 1 by the New York Times's Nate Cohn's is headlined, "A Bill Destined to Fail May Now Spawn More Plausible Options."

But President Joe Biden is still acting like he can light a fire under S. 1. He has to largely show Democratic constituency groups he is fighting for the bill, even though he and everyone else knows it will not pass. The more extreme rhetoric Biden uses, the more those constituency groups will be satisfied he is really fighting for them — or at least making a good show of it.

So on Tuesday, Biden traveled to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to deliver a speech on "protecting the sacred, constitutional right to vote." He told an audience of Democratic activists that some Republican voting bills around the country are "an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are — who we are as Americans."

None of that was true. But the fact that it was not true seemed to make Biden argue all the more forcefully.

"I swore an oath to you, to God, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution," he said. "And that's an oath that forms a sacred trust to defend America against all threats both foreign and domestic. The assault on free and fair elections is just such a threat — literally. I've said it before: We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That's not hyperbole. Since the Civil War."

Whenever Joe Biden says he is not using hyperbole, that's a good sign he is using hyperbole. Also, when he says something is "literally" true, that's often a tipoff he is speaking figuratively.

It went on. Biden called the state election bills, including Georgia's "vicious" law, "the most un-American thing that any of us can imagine, the most undemocratic, the most unpatriotic."

He called them "21st century Jim Crow." He called them "the most dangerous threat to voting and integrity of free and fair elections in our history."

What was striking about Biden's speech, and what lends credence to the idea it was just theater, was the giant disconnect, the disproportion, between the stridency of his rhetoric and the reality of the situation in the states.

The changes proposed in the voting bills are, to use the example of Texas, on the order of eliminating 24-hour voting, which was instituted last year as a pandemic measure in one county: Harris, home of Houston.

Doing away with 24-hour voting — which was an emergency measure, unprecedented, and unique to Harris County — is not 21st century Jim Crow. It is not an assault on democracy. It is not the most serious test of our democracy since the Civil War. It is a common sense, limited measure to regularize post-pandemic voting across the state of Texas.

Biden's strongest point came when he described the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as proof of the threat to democracy. That is arguable, at least as far as many participants are concerned, but it was certainly a troubling event.

But here is an odd thing about both the For the People Act and a related piece of Democratic legislation, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act: Neither would address issues raised by the Capitol riot.

That is, neither would make it more difficult for members of Congress to challenge a presidential election on the occasion of the certification of Electoral College votes.

To do that would require amending the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which establishes the procedures for certifying the count. But Democrats, who say they want to fight for free and fair elections, are devoting their energy to advocating things such as legalized ballot harvesting — and not amending real or perceived flaws in the Electoral Count Act. That's just one more reason to call what is happening voting rights theater.

Meanwhile, the president and Democrats in Congress are expressing support for the Texas Democrats, who are making the rounds in Washington, D.C., vowing to kill the Texas bill — which, as the minority in the Texas Legislature, they cannot do. It's all a show, too.

The whole scene was too much for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The president's talk about Jim Crow and the Civil War is "nonsense," McConnell said in a floor speech Wednesday.

"It would be laugh-out-loud funny if it weren't so irresponsible."

The same is true, McConnell said, for the Texas Democrats.

"They just come here to Washington to snap selfies, bask in the limelight, and beg Senate Democrats to take over Texas's elections," he added. "Once again, the outrage is completely phony."

McConnell was right, of course. But in voting rights theater, the outrage doesn't have to be genuine. Its messaging, directed to the Democratic Party's liberal base and the media outlets that keep them in a constant state of agitation. And in that, both Biden and the Texas Democrats are succeeding.

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Tags: Biden, Voting, Congress, voter rights act

Original Author: Byron York

Original Location: Joe Biden's voting rights theater