President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin III were singled out Saturday by numerous civil rights leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus during a rally on the National Mall to demand the Senate pass legislation that could undo state laws that may make it harder for minorities to vote.
Among other measures, speakers called for the Senate to pass a bill approved in the House last week that is named in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. That bill, HR 4, would restore the Justice Department’s power to “preclear” laws that change voting procedures in many states. The department had that power under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but lost it in a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
The House bill faces a likely filibuster in the Senate. A companion measure called the For the People Act, or HR 1, that would overhaul voting, ethics and campaign finance laws, stalled in the chamber in June after a procedural vote to begin debate did not receive the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.
Speakers on Saturday said they wanted passage of those bills and one giving statehood to Washington, D.C.
Biden has stopped short of endorsing calls to eliminate the filibuster, and Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has said he would not vote to do so. Manchin did vote to begin debate on HR 1, but only because he said he wanted to propose changes. A list of things he said he would support are included in the John Lewis bill.
“The biggest monument to white supremacy remains, and if we don’t tear it down, nothing else matters. It’s called the filibuster,” Martin Luther King III said during a rally timed to coincide with the 58th anniversary of his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., delivering the “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., said democracy was “in crisis” and cited the insurrection on Jan. 6, and Senate Republicans' refusal to support a bipartisan investigation of it.
“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule,” Jones said. “This world can ill afford to allow white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes, folks who deny the effectiveness of vaccines and who don't even want to certify presidential elections to take back control.”
He said to combat that possibility, “We need the White House to get involved and say we’ve got to get rid of this Jim Crow filibuster.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton said his National Action Network has been working with King to hold events in different years to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington, but originally did not plan a march this year. That changed when states — many in reaction to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud robbed him of reelection in November — began enacting new limits on voting in the name of election integrity.
While other Black activist groups staged a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, the march led by King and Sharpton was on the Mall, with the Capitol as a backdrop. Sharpton said that was intentional because of the importance of Senate action this fall. He also noted that in Biden's election victory speech, the president said that Black voters had had his back in the election and he would have theirs as president.
“Well, Mr. President, they’re stabbing us in the back,” Sharpton said. “You need to pick up the phone and call Manchin and the others, and tell them that if they can carve around the filibuster to confirm Supreme Court judges for President Trump, they can carve around the filibuster to [pass] voting rights for President Biden.”
Sharpton said he and the members of the Congressional Black Caucus might decide to become “filibuster busters” and “pitch tents here when the Senate comes back.”