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Pushed to backfoot, Biden concedes voting rights plan may fail

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Joe Biden has been struggling to get two voting protections laws through the Congress. (AP File Photo)

After failing to persuade his fellow Democrats in the Congress to give their full backing to voting rights laws, US President Joe Biden on Thursday appeared to have backed off.

After a lunch meet with Democratic senators on Thursday, Biden seemed to have reconciled with the fact that the two voting protections laws were sailing in troubled waters.

"I hope we can get this done but I'm not sure," he said after an eleventh-hour meeting to win over his party members.

"Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time."

With Democrats controlling just 50 seats in the Senate and Republicans mounting stiff opposition to the laws, experts see very little probability of them making headway so long as the 60-vote threshold remains.

Among the bills pushed by Biden include the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a proposed legislation that would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The other is the Freedom to Vote Act, which would make Election Day a nationwide holiday, force states to allow no-excuse mail-in voting and necessitate 10 hours per day of early voting for two weeks before an election in all jurisdictions.

Before Biden had arrived for his meeting with legislators, Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema said while she backed the voting rights bills, she would not agree to change the filibuster rule.

Sinema said that bypassing the filibuster, which requires some Republican support for a Democratic bill, would deepen "the disease of division” in the country.

Biden's approval ratings have dropped to below 40 percent, which means Republicans are on a good footing to take control of Congress from the Democrats in the November midterm elections.

What has made the job even more difficult for Biden is the opposition from his own party.  

The filibuster rule has allowed Republicans to torpedo initiatives pushed by Democrats, which has prompted Biden to demand change in the rule temporarily and allow vote for the election bills on a simple majority basis, while bypassing the Republicans.

Biden on Tuesday said the push to pass the legislation was a "battle for the soul of America", adding that the 60-vote rule – also known as the filibuster - had reduced the Senate into "a shell of its former self".

The Democratic president had on Tuesday likened supporters of Senate rule changes to civil rights icons like Martin Luther King and its opponents to segregationists like George Wallace.

"At consequential moments in history, they present a choice," Biden said in his impassioned and widely criticized speech. "Do you want to be the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?"

US Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, ripped into Biden’s speech, dubbing it a "rant," "incoherent," "incorrect," "beneath his office" and “profoundly unpresidential.”

“How profoundly, profoundly unpresidential,” McConnell said on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “I’ve known, liked, and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at that podium yesterday.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, raising hopes on the prospect of laws, on Thursday said they were going to “keep fighting till the votes are had.”

“I think we’re gonna keep fighting till the votes are had” — possibly referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plan to call a vote by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.

In another heavy blow to Biden’s presidency, the US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against his COVID-19 test-or-vaccine mandate on large businesses, a key component in the administration's bid to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

 Biden had portrayed the rule as a key way to boost the country's flagging vaccination rates.

However, the top court did allow the administration's vaccine requirement for health care workers at federal facilities to go ahead.

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