Civil rights leaders find meeting with WH ‘encouraging’
President Biden met with civil rights leaders for almost two hours on Thursday as part of a broader effort by his administration to focus on voting rights, a key part of his agenda that has struggled to overcome the roadblock that is the evenly split Senate.
The civil rights leaders emerged from the meeting, which included discussions on voting rights legislation and police reform, describing the U.S. as in a state of emergency.
They cited restrictive voting laws imposed this year in states such as Georgia and Florida, and a recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld Arizona’s voting restrictions.
“We came here at the invitation of the president to underscore the state of emergency that this country faces when it comes to democracy,” National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial told reporters after the conclusion of the nearly two-hour the meeting. “Democracy is under vigorous vicious and sinister attack.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton described the interaction as a “very candid, no holds barred meeting.”
The participants didn’t offer specifics about the discussion with White House officials beyond saying that they emphasized the need for Congress to pass voting rights legislation and promised to use the summer to build a movement against new voting rights laws enacted by Republican-controlled states.
“We’re gratified that he recognizes the nature of the emergency but we have no illusions about what we are up against,” said NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund director counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “This is a very serious and sober moment.”
The White House in a readout of the meeting said that Biden and Vice President Harris “reiterated that they will continue to push for Congress to pass critical legislation that protects the right to vote and combats subversion of the election process, while continuing to utilize all existing authorities in an all-of-government effort to ensure full voter participation and elections that reflect the will of the people.”
The attendees also included Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law president and executive director Damon Hewitt; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights interim president and CEO Wade Henderson; National Coalition on Black Civic Participation president and CEO Melanie Campbell; NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson and National Council of Negro Women chair and president Johnnetta Betsch Cole.
Johnson, who joined the meeting virtually, tweeted that it was “encouraging.”
There is no clear path forward for federal voting rights legislation after Senate Republicans blocked the chamber from considering the For the People Act, a bill that would dramatically overhaul the country’s election laws, last month. The failure of the bill has renewed debate among Democrats about killing the filibuster in the Senate.