Advocates press for action in Congress on voting rights, despite grim outlook

WASHINGTON — Activists are ramping up the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to move on his chamber’s version of a voting rights bill, even though there’s no sign there will be enough Republican support to advance it.

Alternatively, they’re pressing for an end to the filibuster, though there’s no indication there would be enough Democratic support for that yet either.

The push comes as Democrats in Congress face tough decisions in the coming days on how to move ahead on a massive budget reconciliation bill, infrastructure legislation, disaster relief, continued spending to avert a government shutdown and help for Afghan refugees.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, has promised the Senate will act to try to move voting rights ahead too as soon as this week, though there’s no vote scheduled yet on the “Freedom to Vote Act” amid the crush of other problems.

Advocates argue that Democrats need to quickly pass the measure because Republican-led states continue to pass restrictive voting laws and are engaged in drawing new congressional and legislative districts, following the release of census numbers.

Rev. William Barber

“We are going to take action to make sure we protect our democracy and fight back against the disease of voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering and election subversion that is metastasizing at the state level,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

The revised voting rights bill, introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, is the product of months-long negotiations with moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.).

Grassroots advocacy groups like the Poor People’s Campaign and RepresentUs have particularly been putting pressure on Manchin and Congress to protect voting rights. If they won’t do that, then they say Democrats must end the filibuster, which means Senate bills need 60 votes to advance. However, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, (D-Ariz.), have publicly said they won’t kill the filibuster.

“Manchin knows that his Republican friends aren’t going to support federal protection of voting rights,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber with the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a statement.

Barber held a virtual press conference Monday to push Manchin to end the filibuster and criticized his support for adding voter I.D. requirements in the Freedom to Vote Act.

“His cooperation on a bill that would expand the right to vote and protect against voter suppression in the states is important, but it’s a cynical performance of concern about the crisis we face if Manchin isn’t willing to vote with his fellow Democrats to override the Republicans’ interposition of any debate on voting rights through the coward’s filibuster.”

RepresentUs CEO Josh Silver said in a statement that “inaction is not an option.” Read more

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Republican AGs urge Biden administration to give up on vaccine requirements

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — More than 20 Republican state attorneys general are threatening to sue the Biden administration over its mandate that large employers require their employees to either be vaccinated against the coronavirus vaccine or undergo weekly testing.

In a Thursday letter, the 24 AGs pushed the administration to remove the requirement that would affect nearly 80 million Americans and instead let employees make their own decisions on vaccinations.

“There are many less intrusive means to combat the spread of COVID-19 other than requiring vaccinations or COVID-19 testing,” they wrote. “The risks of COVID-19 spread also vary widely depending on the nature of the business in question, many of which can have their employees, for example, work remotely.”

On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden instructed the Department of Labor to issue a temporary emergency rule under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to mandate that employers either put in place a vaccine requirement, mandate weekly COVID-19 testing or fire employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

He later met with business leaders “who champion vaccine mandates that will. . .make sure that we keep businesses open and workers safe,” he said, underlining the mandate support from a traditionally Republican group.

The state attorneys general argue that Biden’s mandate is not legal.

“If your Administration does not alter its course, the undersigned state Attorneys General will seek every available legal option to hold you accountable and uphold the rule of law,” they wrote.

Those states include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

They argue that to justify OSHA’s emergency standard, the administration needs to prove that employees are exposed to grave danger.

“Moreover, many Americans who have recovered from COVID-19 have obtained a level of natural immunity, and the statistics are clear that young people without co-morbidities have a low risk of hospitalization from COVID-19,” they said. “You thus cannot plausibly meet the high burden of showing that employees in general are in grave danger.”

However, some studies have shown that COVID-19 infections are rapidly increasing in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that as of Sept. 9, nearly 5.3 million children have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic and 243,000 cases were added in one week in September, the second-highest number in a week since the pandemic began.

The academy says that “at this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children. However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”

Nearly 700,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and there have been more than 44 million cases of the virus. Some of those who have recovered from the virus have suffered from long-haul COVID-19 symptoms, as reported by the Atlantic.    

The state AGs also argue that putting in place vaccine requirements is “likely to increase skepticism of vaccines.”

More than 180 million Americans, or at least half the U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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