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Biden names Harris to lead administration's effort to protect voting rights

Biden acknowledged the hurdles for federal election reform in Congress, including "two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends."
Joe Biden
Posted at 7:39 AM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 08:39:21-04

WASHINGTON (NBC NEWS) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the administration's push to protect voting rights as federal election reform legislation faces steep hurdles in the closely divided Senate.

In remarks commemorating the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, Race Massacre, Biden said that with Harris in charge, voting reforms would "address what remains on the stained soul of America."

"With her leadership and your support, we're going to overcome again," he said, speaking to community leaders and survivors on the 100th anniversary of the bloody attack on Tulsa's Black residents.

Harris said in a statement that she will work with organizations and lawmakers alike.

"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. And we will also work with members of Congress to help advance these bills," she said. "Our Administration will not stand by when confronted with any effort that keeps Americans from voting."

The assignment expands Harris' portfolio. Biden selected Harris in March to lead the administration's diplomatic efforts in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras as part of its effort to curb migration as a record number of children arrive at the U.S. border seeking asylum.

Biden also condemned as "un-American" Republican-led efforts to place new limits on elections after President Donald Trump's defeat, especially in Texas, where Democrats staged a walkout over the weekend to effectively kill a restrictive voting bill.

"Texas legislators put forth a bill that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing a state law that attacks the sacred right to vote," he said. "It's part of an assault on democracy that we've seen far too often this year —and often disproportionately targeting Black and brown Americans."

Biden asked voting rights groups to "redouble their efforts now to register and educate voters," and he said his administration will be "ramping up efforts" to counter the "unprecedented assault" on voting.

"I will have more to say about this at a later date," he said.

The Democratic-controlled House in March passed the For the People Act, which would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing voting systems.

It would also require states to offer at least 15 days of early voting, universal access to mail-in voting and same-day registration for federal races. It would make Election Day a national holiday, too.

The House also passed a voting rights bill named for the late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia in 2019, but it failed in the Senate last year. The bill would have bolstered provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, certain parts of which the Supreme Court struck down in 2013 — most notably the requirement that certain states with histories of discrimination pre-clear some changes to their voting laws with the federal government.

Biden and other Democrats argue that federal intervention is needed to stop Republicans from reviving racist Jim Crow-style restrictions to make it harder for minorities to vote. Republicans have argued that Democrats are executing a power grab to remove necessary protections for the voting process and to usurp authority from states.

Biden used the moment in Tulsa to urge lawmakers to pass reforms.

"June should be a month of action on Capitol Hill," he said, while acknowledging the tight Democratic majorities — particularly "two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends."