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Biden visits Philadelphia to push for stalled voting rights measure By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a visit to the northwest Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, Illinois, U.S., July 7, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden, under pressure from U.S. civil rights leaders, travels to Philadelphia on Tuesday to issue a strong appeal for congressional passage of sweeping Democratic-backed voting rights legislation stalled amid Republican opposition.

Numerous Republican-controlled states have approved laws that either restrict voting or change election rules following Republican former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud.

The voting rights legislation sought by Biden faces an uphill battle in Congress, where his fellow Democrats have been stymied by Senate Republicans. Biden’s focus on the subject, even if the legislation fails, allows him to rally support among Democratic voters as his party works to maintain control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

Senate Republicans blocked the Democratic-backed voting rights bill https://www.reuters.com/world/us/democrats-voting-rights-plan-faces-long-odds-us-senate-2021-06-22 that would expand opportunities to vote before Election Day, make certain campaign contributions more transparent and change the process for drawing the boundaries of House of Representatives districts. Republicans said the measure violates the authority of states to set their own election laws.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that Biden in Philadelphia will call efforts to strip the right to vote from some Americans “authoritarian and anti-American” and “the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War.”

The president will make a “moral case for why denying the right to vote is a form of suppression and a form of silencing,” and discuss steps his administration plans to take to shore up voting rights, Psaki told reporters.

Biden chose a city heavy with symbolism to make the speech. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed at Independence Hall, just steps away from the National Constitution Center, where he will make his remarks.

Biden met last week with civil rights leaders who pushed him to keep fighting on the voting issue despite Republican resistance. His top priority in recent weeks has been working toward securing congressional approval of a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-senate-braces-hell-fight-over-bidens-infrastructure-plan-2021-07-12.

Biden’s Philadelphia speech will address the ongoing “onslaught of voter suppression laws based on a dangerous and discredited conspiracy theory that culminated in an assault on our Capitol,” Psaki said, referring to the Jan. 6 riot by Trump supporters.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, at least 17 states this year have enacted laws that restrict voting access, with more being considered.

Biden’s party and civil rights groups have opposed these voting restrictions, which critics have said are aimed at Black, Hispanic and younger voters, who have helped elect Democrats. Many Republicans have justified new restrictions as a means to combat voter fraud, a phenomenon that election experts have said is rare in the United States.

In Texas on Monday, more than 50 Democratic legislators https://www.reuters.com/world/us/texas-democratic-lawmakers-flee-state-thwart-voting-restrictions-2021-07-12 left that state in a bid to derail Republican efforts to pass voting restrictions and other conservative proposals in a special legislative session. The Democratic legislators said on Tuesday they plan to stay in Washington as long as needed to derail the state legislation and push for federal voting reform.

The U.S. Supreme Court on July 1 made it easier for states to enact voting restrictions in a case in which it endorsed two Republican-backed measures in Arizona. After the ruling, Biden said “democracy is on the line” and called on Congress to pass the Democratic-backed voting rights legislation.

Biden’s administration also has turned to the courts. It sued the state of Georgia on June 25, challenging the legality of voting restrictions that it said infringe on the rights of Black voters.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was assigned by Biden to lead the administration’s efforts on voting rights, said on July 8 that the Democratic Party would invest $25 million in voter registration and education efforts.


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