Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday sharply criticized Republicans for blocking a bill that would have created minimum standards for elections and vowed Democrats would not end their fight to expand voting access.
“We must defend and strengthen the right that unlocks all other rights—the right to vote,” Harris said as she stood by a 30-foot granite statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain African American who led the nonviolent 1960s civil rights movement.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the memorial’s dedication, Harris touted two bills that she asserted would ensure the broadest expansion of voting rights since the 1960s. She said such legislation was needed to counter Republican-led efforts at the state level to curtail the victories Black activists had won.
Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure to debate legislation that would have established election day as a public holiday, required additional disclosures of campaign fundraising and spending, and created a pathway to challenge new voting laws in court.
The Senate Freedom to Vote Act was a scaled-down version of broader bills passed by House Democrats earlier this year. It was co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key moderate, who included some provisions that he hoped would win over some Republicans.
But no GOP lawmakers crossed the aisle. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the legislation was only a compromise among Democrats and called it an attempt to “micromanage” state and local elections.
Republicans filibustered the legislation, and it failed to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate in advance of a floor vote. It marked the third time Republicans this year have blocked such legislation in the Senate.
Such Republican efforts come as former President Trump has continued to peddle his falsehood-filled campaign that the 2020 election had been stolen, and as more than a dozen Republican-controlled states have passed laws limiting voting access.
Democrats have tried to pass voting legislation following the 2013 Supreme Court decision that voided provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required certain jurisdictions to get approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing practices that might affect voting rights.
The decades-old provision was meant to regulate jurisdictions with a history of blocking African Americans from voting.
Harris was joined at the memorial by President Biden, who echoed his vice president’s call to pass voting rights legislation, saying, “We have to keep up the fight and get it done.”
The memorial, near the National Mall, shows the likeness of King emerging out of rock. It was sculpted by Chinese artist Lei Yixin, whose inspiration came from a line in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.