Hillary Clinton invokes MLK’s criticism of ‘white moderates’ after Manchin and Sinema reject filibuster reform

Democratic senators and GOP filibuster imperil voting rights legislation as activists rally ahead of late civil rights leader’s birthday

Alex Woodward
New York
Saturday 15 January 2022 21:15
Comments
Joe Biden seems to indicate Democrats won't change the filibuster rule

Hillary Clinton has invoked Martin Luther King Jr’s criticisms of “the white moderate “ in what appeared to be a thinly- veiled rebuke of Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema after they rejected President Joe Biden’s urgent demands to change Senate filibuster rules that block passage of federal voting rights legislation.

In a message on Twitter, the former Democratic presidential candidate quoted the late civil rights leader’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he rebuts “unjust laws” as well as “the white moderate” with a “shallow understanding” of injustice.

“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress,” Ms Clinton quoted Mr King as saying.

She added: “This is a subtweet.”

President Biden met with a group of Democratic senators on Thursday following House passage of an omnibus voting rights bill that would create national standards for ballot access and voter registration, combat election subversion, and revive anti-discrimination protections in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The bill – combining the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which both faced repeat Republican filibusters in the Senate – is heading to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to amend current filibuster rules, which require most legislation to receive 60 votes to move forward.

Senators Manchin and Sinema have already pledged to shoot such plans down.

In her remarks to the Senate on Thursday, Senator Sinema warned that changes to the filibuster would worsen political division in the US.

“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold on a party line with the thinnest of possible majorities to pass these bills that I support will not guarantee that we prevent demagogues from winning office.”

After meeting with the president, Senator Manchin issued a statement saying he “will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”

Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the late civil rights leader, led a march and rally in Arizona on Saturday calling on Senator Sinema “to urgently pass federal voting rights legislation and ensure that the Jim Crow filibuster does not stand in the way”.

On 17 January, the federal holiday commemorating the civil rights leader’s birthday, the family will march in Washington DC.

Mr King III and other voting rights advocates are calling for “no celebration” of the holiday without voting rights legislation.

His wife Arndrea Waters King told CNN that there is “no better way to observe the King holiday” than to rally around voting rights protections.

“If we’re really talking about celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, voting rights was a cornerstone of his legacy,” she said. “We cannot simply in good faith celebrate him or celebrate that legacy with this current attack on access to the ballot box.”

In a furious address from Atlanta on Tuesday, Mr Biden condemned a Republican-backed wave of state-level legislation to restrict ballot access and change the rules of election administration.

After meeting with senators on Thursday, Mr Biden told reporters that previous pieces of civil rights legislation failed before they ultimately passed through Congress.

“We missed this time,” he said. “And state legislative bodies continue to change the law, not as to who can vote, but gets to count the vote.”

Last year, Republican state lawmakers passed at least 32 new laws in 17 states to change how elections are run, including efforts to strip oversight from election officials and put it into the hands of GOP-dominated state legislatures.

GOP legislators filed at least 262 such bills in 41 states, and more are expected as legislative sessions resume in 2022, according to States United Democracy Center.

A parallel effort saw the passage of at least 24 laws in 19 states restricting ballot access, after GOP legislators filed more than 440 bills in 49 states last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

More than a dozen bills restricting ballot access have been pre-filed ahead of 2022 legislative sessions in four states, and at least 88 bills in nine states will carry over from 2021 sessions.

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