Dick Durbin: Okay, yes, maybe Biden went "a little too far" in his demagogic voting rights speech

I don’t think it’s Republicans’ hurt feelings that Durbin is worried about here. Remember, Biden didn’t limit his Jefferson Davis analogies in Tuesday’s speech to the GOP. He targeted all members of the Senate who oppose ending the filibuster in the name of passing federal voting rights legislation.


Which wasn’t too swift for a politician whose economic agenda still depends on winning the support of the filibuster supporters in his own party.

Some liberals are puzzled by the “strategy,” such as it is:

John McCormack is right about the Democrats’ play in forging ahead on voting rights despite lacking the 60 votes needed to get it done. “The impending failed vote now looks more like an attempt to blunt criticism of Biden and Schumer from their left flank,” he writes. “Don’t blame us, they’ll say, it’s Joe Manchin’s and Kyrsten Sinema’s fault for siding with the racists and enemies of democracy.”

Biden and Schumer might not be able to spot the strategic error in demagoging Manchin and Sinema while the fate of Build Back Better hangs in the balance, but Durbin can:

The White House is pulling out the stops to show progressives that they’re doing everything possible to change Manchinema’s mind. Barack Obama published the first op-ed of his post-presidency today calling on Dems to go nuclear and pass a voting rights bill. And Biden himself is headed to the Capitol today to appeal to Manchin and Sinema in person, at the Senate Dems’ weekly lunch, which may be another strategic error in the making. He did the same thing twice late last year to try to convince House progressives to support the bipartisan infrastructure bill, remember, and twice they defied him, forcing Pelosi to pull the bill from the floor. After awhile, if you’re repeatedly throwing your presidential weight around and getting laughed off by your own party, you start to look … weak.


But what choice does he have? The least he can do for progressives amid the colossal disappointment to come after voting-rights legislation fails in the Senate is to show them that he’s wholly invested in the effort. He isn’t, of course — if he were, this would have taken priority over Build Back Better — but pressuring Manchinema publicly and then generating headlines about how he’s pressuring them privately will at least deflect the left’s anger away from him and onto the two centrist holdouts. “At some point, Schumer has to put up or shut up – get this bill on the floor and have the fight, or stop talking about it. He’s chosen the former. And don’t forget Schumer is up for re-election in November,” Punchbowl pointed out this morning.

MAGA fans especially should be able to understand Schumer’s logic, ironically. It’s bad when one’s party fails to advance its priorities but it’s unforgivable for the party to fail without fighting. Schumer’s going to show his base, especially the progressives in New York who might otherwise have a reason to primary him, that he’s willing to fight. (Or at least willing to orchestrate a pantomime of a fight.) We won’t see him say that Biden went too far in demagoging the opposition in Tuesday’s speech like Durbin did, I’m sure.

Speaking of which, reporters in Georgia have picked up a loose strand from that speech. Where oh where was the most prominent voting-rights advocate in America, who so happens to be running for governor of the state next year? Stacey Abrams claimed she had a scheduling conflict that forced her to miss Biden’s event, but local media want to know: What was the conflict? Abrams … won’t say.


“An inadvertent miscommunication occurred regarding the president’s visit to Georgia, and, as a candidate for state office who had stepped down from her official voting rights leadership position to run, Stacey did not presume she would receive an invitation, nor did she or any member of our team ask for her to have a speaking spot at an event she could not attend.

“By the time she received an invitation, Stacey had already made a commitment she could not break, and our team shared this conflict with the White House as soon as possible.”

What “commitment” is so important that it couldn’t be broken to be the star guest at a rally in your home state on your core issue with the president of the United States when you’re running for governor?

Obviously Abrams contrived an excuse not to be there, knowing that Biden is political poison in swing states like Georgia at the moment and that voting-rights groups who boycotted the event due to the White House’s inaction would be annoyed at seeing her there. Simply put, she calculated that a photo op with the president would hurt her gubernatorial chances more than it would help, even knowing that he was set to extol the cause for which she’s best known. At this point, Biden needs her more than she needs him.

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024