By Nandita Bose and Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Wednesday aimed at addressing a global semiconductor chip shortage that has forced U.S. automakers and other manufacturers to cut production and alarmed the White House and members of Congress, administration officials said. The scarcity, exacerbated by the pandemic, will be the subject when Biden meets a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday to discuss the issue. Administration officials said Biden's executive order, to be signed at 4:45 p.m. EST Wednesday, will launch an imm...
U.S. Senate Republicans blocked the advance of voting rights legislation Wednesday, the second time this year—thwarting again Democrats' attempts to pass federal protections for voters amid a slew of new state elections laws.
“When we are faced with a coordinated effort across our country to limit the freedom to vote, we must stand up and do what is right," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who sponsored the bill, said on the Senate floor just before the party-line vote.
The Freedom to Vote Act would make Election Day a national holiday and set minimum standards each state must have for elections, including two weeks of early voting and an option for same-day voter registration.
Supporters of the legislation say it is necessary to protect American democracy from a recent push to restrict voting access.
Nineteen states have approved more stringent voting requirements this year. Republican state legislators pushed for the restrictions, partly in response to former President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
“If there is anything worthy of the Senate's attention, it is unquestionably this," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who vowed to bring up the issue again. “If there is anything that merits debate on this floor, it's protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out"
But the 49-51 vote along party lines—with Schumer voting in opposition for procedural reasons—demonstrates the challenge Democrats face to advance their agenda in the evenly divided Senate. They need 60 votes and support from Republicans to get past a filibuster and move to debate and a vote on a bill.
Even after moderate Democrats made concessions, no Republicans were willing to let the bill advance and for now it is stalled.
The failure likely will encourage those who want to change the Senate's filibuster rule.
“Protecting the fundamental right to vote is not a partisan issue, and the Senate filibuster should not be used to block debate of this critical legislation," said William Roberts, managing director for Democracy and Government Reform at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.
“Lawmakers should take immediate action to reform the arcane filibuster rules so the Senate can debate and pass this measure. The future of our democracy is at stake," Roberts said.
The Manchin effect
House Democrats passed a more expansive voting rights proposal, called the For the People Act, last March.
But Republicans blocked debate on it in the Senate last summer.
In response, a group of Senate Democrats drafted a scaled-back proposal.They added a requirement for voter identification at the behest of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, who had voted to advance the earlier bill but still had problems with it.
The new proposal also scaled back controversial provisions affecting the Federal Elections Commission and threw out some revisions to the ethics laws.
Klobuchar introduced the Freedom to Vote Act. Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Manchin were among the original cosponsors.
“Now, crafting this bill, as you know, was no easy feat," Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “It took months of hard work, compromise, and gathering feedback from experts on sensible policies that have been proven to work."
Manchin was key in trying to gain GOP support for the bill, according to Schumer, and met with Republican senators over the past few weeks.
But in the end, Democrats were far from the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky remained staunchly opposed to the bill, which he described as a federal “election takeover."
“This latest umpteenth iteration is only a compromise in the sense that the left and the far left argued among themselves about exactly how much power to grab in which areas," McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The Republican leader urged his colleagues to vote against the proposal and “continue to do the job the framers assigned it, and stop terrible ideas in their tracks."
Schumer asked Republicans to support the cloture vote and said he would allow a “full-fledged debate" with amendments.
“What we can't accept is a situation where one side is calling for bipartisan debate and bipartisan cooperation while the other refuses to even engage in a dialogue. If our Republican colleagues don't like our ideas, they have a responsibility to present their own," Schumer said.
There is a growing push from progressives to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.
More than 80 progressive groups have formed a coalition, Fix Our Senate, to call for filibuster reform. Eli Zupnick, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide who now works as spokesman for the group, called Wednesday's vote a “moment of truth" for Democrats to overhaul the filibuster.
Democrats do not yet have enough votes to kill the filibuster altogether. At least two Democrats, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, oppose eliminating it.
But some lawmakers have suggested changing Senate rules to exempt voting rights from the filibuster or altering the rules on debate and amendments so more members of the minority might be willing to proceed.
State voting restrictions
The federal effort comes amid a wave of new restrictions enacted this year in state legislatures across the country, most of them from Republicans.
The number of restrictive voting laws approved in states in 2021 was unprecedented: Nineteen states enacted 33 laws with provisions that will make it harder for some constituents to vote, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law.
State lawmakers in 49 states introduced more than 425 bills with provisions to restrict voting in the 2021 legislative sessions, according to the center.
Some new state laws include provisions to impose more stringent voter identification requirements, ban snacks or water to voters waiting in line, reduce polling place availability, shorten the time-frame for mail ballots or limit the number of mail ballot drop boxes.
Kaine said in a call with reporters Wednesday that his motivation to work on the bill was driven in part by the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, from rioters who wanted to overturn the presidential election.
“Those same lies are being used in states across the country to make it harder for people to vote," Kaine said.
Likewise, Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, urged his colleagues to protect voting rights.
“Most countries that have a January sixth never survive to a January 20th," Bennet said.
Some advocacy groups pushing for federal protections for voting rights—including the NAACP—have said the Biden administration and Democrats should be working with more urgency.
Small groups of protestors stood outside the White House and the vice president's residence this week with signs about voting rights.
Just before the voting rights vote, Vice President Kamala Harris came to the Senate floor to break the tie on a vote to confirm a nominee, and she stayed throughout the vote on the voting rights bill.
Biden and Harris this week called the Democratic senators who have been leading the effort, according to the White House.
In a press briefing earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against the notion that Biden has not done enough to support the bill, placing the blame on Republicans who will not allow it to move forward.
Biden called the party-line Republican opposition “unconscionable" in a statement released today asking for support of the bill.
“The right to vote—to vote freely, to vote fairly, and to have your vote counted—is fundamental. It should be simple and straightforward. Let there be a debate and let there be a vote," Biden said.
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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) blasted Steve Bannon on the House floor during floor debate on sending the Department of Justice a criminal referral after the Trump advisor defied a congressional subpoena.
"Madam Speaker, a year ago today, the election was still a couple of weeks off. We knew it would be a tight race, but most of us did not anticipate that President Trump — or any president, frankly — would ever simply reject the outcome of the vote," Cheney began.
"President Trump had no factual or constitutional basis for his claims and the lawyers he found who would carry his false claims forward have paid the consequences," she noted. "Rudy Giuliani's license to practice law has been suspended and Sidney Powell has been sanctioned by a federal judge."
"But Donald Trump persisted, attempting through every manner he could imagine to try to overturn the outcome of the election and we all saw what happened," she explained. "The people who attacked this building have told us on video, on social media, and now before the federal courts exactly what motivated them. They believed what Donald Trump told them, that the election was stolen and that they needed to take action."
Cheney noted Bannon's comments the day before the attack, when he threatened that "all hell is going to break loose."
Listen to Steve Bannon talking about #January6th. The American people deserve to hear his testimony. https://t.co/JDnotq5eDr— Rep. Liz Cheney (@Rep. Liz Cheney) 1634835134.0
"It is shocking and indefensible," Cheney said.
"In fact, there is no doubt that Mr. Bannon knows far more than what he said on the video. There is no doubt that all hell did break loose. Just ask the scores of brave police officers who were injured that day, protecting all of us. The American people deserve to hear his testimony," she added, listing four examples of the legislative purpose of the investigation.
Liz Cheney youtu.be
One of the biggest concerns among progressives has been the power of lobbyists in influencing lawmakers with hefty campaign contributions. Former President Barack Obama's first executive order stopped the so-called "revolving door" from lobbyists entering government and government staffers entering the lobbying world after being in the White House. That was eliminated under former President Donald Trump.
In fact, in Trump's final days in office, he revoked his own order that required government appointees to sign a pledge saying they won't lobby the agencies they worked for. It would last for five years after leaving the administration position.
But Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL) took issue with lobbyists being hired by the government during a Thursday hearing with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. Gaetz claimed that he has an issue with people serving as political consultants working for the government.
"It sounds like there's no special vetting for lobbyists or political consultants," said Gaetz. "What about partisan committee staff. Their job is to insure that one party or another preserves or, you know, captures the majority, that legislative proposals are successful or not successful. No prohibition against the department hiring them, is there?"
"As I understand it, every administration, including the one preceding this one, have hired people who have been committee staff. I don't think there's a statutory limitation," said Garland. "If the House of Representatives and the Senate think that partisan or —"
Gaetz claimed it was how Preet Bharara got his job at the DOJ, though it's unclear what he meant. According to his biography, Bharara served U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for seven years, and was then fired by Trump despite previously being asked to stay on. He then worked with Sen. Chuck Schumer to investigate the firings. Prior to working for the DOJ he served as the assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan. It's unclear where Gaetz got his information, but Bharara isn't a lobbyist nor was he one before 2009.
"So, I'll say again, the hiring in the public integrity section is a career hire made under the civil service. It's not made --" Garland said before Gaetz cut him off.
"I'm worried about their prior career. What I think is if someone has been a political operative to then put them in charge of election crimes, it's kind of like having the fox guard the henhouse, don't you think?" asked Gaetz.
"If you think that, that would be a perfect example of something the House should pass a statute barring people from particular professions from working in the Justice Department," said Garland.
See the exchange below:
Garland to Gaetz: if you don't like something - pass a law www.youtube.com
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