OP-ED: January 6th, voting rights and the tyranny that threatens America

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By Congressman James E. Clyburn, House Majority Whip (D-SC)

I was listening carefully this morning as our 46thth President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the nation from Statuary Hall to celebrate the first anniversary of last year’s uprising. I found myself pondering the attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled us into a world war against a tyrannical foreign power.

Eighty years later, tyranny threatens America again, this time through a domestic attack. A President and his aides have created a narrative and fomented a “Big Lie” that continues. He instigated a violent mob to attack our seat of government and disrupt the certification of the results of a free and fair election he lost by over 7 million votes.

President Franklin Roosevelt called the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor “a day that will live in shame.” The Second World War lasted almost 4 years. January 6, 2021 has unleashed a shameful and undignified domestic conflict and it remains to be seen how long it will last.

Over the past year we have witnessed loyalists from the 45thth Presidents are working to unravel the threads that bind the fabric of our representative democracy together. His supporters, fueled by constant disinformation, have harassed and intimidated election officials across the country, prompting many to resign in fear for themselves and their families.

Republican officials, fearing being dominated by “45er” loyalists, are embracing his “big lie” and enacting legislation they believe will appease him. States with Republican governors and legislatures pass laws and redistribution plans designed to guarantee the election of more like-minded loyalists and shift government control away from anyone who does not conform to their tyrannical whims. According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have enacted 34 electoral laws restricting or suppressing voting. Some to make it easier for local officials to annul election results they don’t like.

The right to vote is the most fundamental thread of our democratic fabric. Without them, our democracy falls apart. Currently, 50 Republicans in the US Senate, with the support and abetting of two Democrats, are blocking the vote on two important voting rights bills, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act essentially updates the formula that, since the passage of the Voters Rights Act of 1965, triggers a pre-approval process by the Department of Justice or a federal court whenever a jurisdiction seeks to make changes to electoral laws. In 2013, this pre-approval formula was declared obsolete by the United States Supreme Court, prompting Congress to update the formula.

The House of Representatives responded with over a dozen hearings through two separate committees and passed subsequent legislation that was sent to the Senate. Unfortunately, all Senate Republicans except for Senator Lisa Murkowski stand in the way of its passage. Two Democrats have comforted Republicans on the issue, and one of them, Senator Joe Manchin, has proposed the Freedom to Vote Act to gain bipartisan support for many provisions of the House-passed For the People Act.

The legislation includes provisions to protect poll security, reform campaign finance, ensure fair redistribution of constituencies and prevent voter annulment. Despite Senator Manchin’s attempts at mollification, not a single Republican voted to put the Freedom to Vote Act to the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to submit both bills to a re-vote by Jan. 17th, the holiday of Dr. However, Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts appear doomed without a change to the Senate’s filibuster rules, which require 60 votes to stop the debate.

While bipartisanship is welcomed and perhaps preferable, history informs us that the 15th Amendment, which gives blacks the right to vote, is based on party-line voting. And who would argue that the 15th Amendment shouldn’t have passed because it didn’t have bipartisan support?

I’m not a fan of filibusters. But while it is important to most Senate members to uphold this tradition, I contend that exceptions on constitutional issues such as voting should apply. An exception applies to tax matters to ensure that the full confidence and creditworthiness of the United States is not jeopardized by a filibuster. The process is called “reconciliation,” a term I think is more appropriately applied to the Constitution than to the Budget.

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt spoke these words: “No matter how long it takes us to overcome this willful invasion, the American people will prevail in their righteous might.” He continued: “I assure you that not only will we defend ourselves to the utmost, but we will be very sure that this form of betrayal will never endanger us again.” America was victorious. Our democracy and our friends and allies have been saved from tyranny.

Today’s challenge is no less dangerous. To dismiss the seriousness of this moment is to condone the insidiousness of the “big lie.” Our best protection is to make sure the foundations of our democracy are preserved. When our 16th In another challenging time, the President praised: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

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