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Biden says he will ramp up push to expand voting rights, and puts Harris in charge

  • By Ayesha Rascoe/NPR
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on March 23, 2021.

 Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on March 23, 2021.

(Washington) — President Biden says the “incredible intensity” of focus behind recent Republican state voting laws is an “unprecedented assault” on U.S. democracy, rallying voting rights groups to redouble their efforts to register voters and urging the U.S. Senate to pass new legislation.

Signaling the importance he puts on voting rights, Biden is putting Vice President Harris in charge of the administration’s campaign.

“To signify the importance of our efforts, today I’m asking Vice President Harris to help these efforts and lead them, among her many other responsibilities,” Biden said on Tuesday while commemorating the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.

“With her leadership and your support, we’re going to overcome again, I promise you. But it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work,” Biden said.

It’s a tough job, given the narrow majorities that Democrats hold in Congress. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Harris asked the president for the assignment. “It’s an issue that she is personally committed to and passionate about,” Psaki said. “He’s confident in her ability to take on a robust agenda,” she said.

The move comes as a number of Republican-led state legislatures have pushed to enact more voting restrictions, arguing that voters are concerned about the integrity of elections.

Voting rights activists and many Democrats counter that the “election integrity” push is more about making it harder for communities of color to vote.

Democrats in Texas staged a dramatic walkout over the weekend, denying a final vote on a restrictive voting measure. The state’s Republican governor says he will call a special legislative session to newly consider a voting measure. The push in Texas follows the enactment of voting restrictions in states like ArizonaFlorida and Georgia.

The Biden administration has faced increasing pressure to do more to combat these state voting bills.

Biden has been pushing for Congress to pass sweeping legislation that would expand voting rights and change campaign finance rules. The bill passed the House, but it has stalled in the Senate, where Democrats would need the support of at least 10 Republicans.

The voting rights push is the latest addition to Harris’ growing portfolio. Harris has been tasked with addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, expanding broadband access, and overseeing space policy. On Thursday, Biden also said Harris would be lead a tour across the South and Midwest this month to try to encourage people to get vaccinated for the coronavirus.

In a statement, Harris said she would be working with voting rights organizations and the private sector on the voting issue.

“Our administration will not stand by when confronted with any effort that keeps Americans from voting,” Harris said.

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