Harris likens Texas Democrats to suffragettes, civil rights leaders

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks before her departure at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S., after attending a vaccine mobilization event, July 12, 2021. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Vice President Kamala Harris said on Tuesday that Texas Democratic lawmakers who left the state took a courageous stand to derail Republican efforts to pass voting restrictions, likening their efforts to those of civil rights activists and suffragettes.

In an interview with Reuters, Harris said she encourages lawmakers in every state imposing voting restrictions to stand up for the right of all Americans to vote. More than 50 Democratic lawmakers left Texas on Monday to deny the state legislature the quorum required to approve Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s special-session agenda.

“I applaud what they are doing. They are part of the legacy of people who, for generations, sadly have had to fight for all Americans’ right to vote, some of whom have died in that pursuit,” she said.

Harris met with the Texas lawmakers later on Tuesday at the headquarters of the American Federation of Teachers, a Democratic-aligned labor union. The legislators defied calls for their arrest and said they would stay in Washington to push for federal voting reform.

President Joe Biden also spoke on voting rights in Philadelphia, calling it a “national imperative” to pass sweeping voting rights legislation that has stalled in Congress. Biden did not outline a path to overcome Republican opposition.

Civil rights groups say Republican-led efforts to enact restrictions in a number of states would make voting more difficult for many Black and Hispanic citizens, traditional supporters of Democrats. The state restrictions follow Republican former President Donald Trump’s false claim that voting fraud was widespread in the 2020 election that he lost to Biden, a Democrat.

Harris also said in the interview that her work to fight voting restrictions adopts a multi-pronged approach focused on the need to register voters, educate them about voting rights and protect them. She said she was putting together a coalition including the private sector, but did not name any specific companies that had joined.

Neither Harris nor Biden mentioned a step that some fellow Democrats and activists have recommended: changing Senate rules to weaken the legislative filibuster that has allowed Republicans to stall the voting rights measure and other Democratic priorities.

LEADING VOTING RIGHTS FIGHT

Last month, Biden appointed Harris, the first woman, first African American and first Asian American to hold the vice presidency, to lead his administration’s fight against voting restrictions.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, at least 17 states this year have enacted laws that restrict voting access, with more being considered.

The Democratic National Committee plans to spend $25 million on voter registration, outreach and protections ahead of the 2022 congressional elections.

Asked if the amount was too little, Harris said: “Let’s do $25 million at a time” and said Democrats would deploy “every form of resource” into the issue.

Harris said she had convened meetings with leaders in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and South Carolina, and would also host leaders representing Americans with disabilities – a group likely to suffer from voting restrictions.

Biden outpolled Trump by 7 million votes nationwide but won by narrow margins in several battleground states that ensured his victory in the Electoral College. Many Democrats worry that voting restrictions could swing those states Republican in the next presidential race.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling also weakened a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That could make it much harder for Democrats to prevail in lawsuits against states, such as Georgia, that have passed voting restrictions.