The House Passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

On Tuesday, August 24, the House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act by a vote of 219-212.1 The bill is an attempt to reestablish some voting protections that the Supreme Court struck down as outdated and unconstitutional in its 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.2 The bill faces a steep climb in the Senate, where it may not receive a vote.3 The bill is named for John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, civil rights leader, and former chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who passed away in 2020.4

LISTEN: “The Right To Vote: The Impact Of Shelby County v. Holder on Voting Rights,” from NPR

In a written statement, Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated the passage of the legislation. “Congressman John Lewis was an American hero who dedicated his life to fighting for our nation’s highest ideals,” she said. “Today, the House of Representatives honored Congressman Lewis by passing his namesake legislation, which restores and expands the historic Voting Rights Act. This important step represents progress, but there is more work to do. The Senate must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act so it can become the law of the land and protect voters across the country.”5

What Is in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act?

The legislation restores “voting rights protections that have been dismantled by the Supreme Court. Under the proposal, the Justice Department would again police new changes to voting laws in states that have racked up a series of ‘violations,’ drawing them into a mandatory review process known as ‘preclearance.’”6 Essentially, it would require certain jurisdictions “with a history of racial discrimination in voting” to get permission from the Department of Justice to make changes to their voting rules.7

What Are Supporters Saying?

Representative Terri Sewell, D-Ala., argued, “When we see states running amuck, we need federal oversight. If it wasn’t for federal oversight, we not only would not have gotten the Voting Rights Act, we wouldn’t have gotten the Civil Rights Act. After the Shelby v. Holder decision, we saw states like North Carolina and Texas reinstate restrictive voting laws and those voting laws are suppressive, oppressive, and depressive. They stop the people who need to vote from voting.”8

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill. “We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”9

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland contended that the Voting Rights Act’s “preclearance” provision was “enormously effective” and helped block “thousands of discriminatory voting changes that would have curtailed the voting rights of millions of citizens in jurisdictions large and small.”10

What Are Opponents Saying?

For the most part, Republicans are not supporting the legislation and will likely filibuster the bill in the Senate. As the bill was being considered in the House, Representative Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the top Republican on the House panel that oversees federal elections, denounced the legislation as a “federal takeover” of elections and a “partisan power grab.”11

Representative Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., said the bill would make it easier for advocacy groups and lawyers to “file as many objections as possible to manufacture” lawsuits. “It empowers the attorney general to bully states.”12

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the bill “unnecessary” because “it’s against the law to discriminate in voting on the basis of race already.” Furthermore, he said it would “grant to the Justice Department almost total ability to determine the voting systems of every state in America.”13

What’s Next?

The bill still has significant hurdles to clear in the Senate. So far, Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is the only Republican senator who has indicated she will support the bill.14 There remain opportunities for citizens to weigh in by contacting their senators.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you heard about election laws and voter suppression in the news or from other sources?
  2. What different laws, ideas, and proposals to address elections and voting concerns have you heard about?
  3. Which arguments in support of this bill resonate most with you? Which arguments in opposition resonate most with you?
  4. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote on this bill? Explain or justify your vote.
  5. What other proposals or measures would you support to reform voting rights or access?

Get Involved

  • Write to your senators about this issue. Use this directory to find how to contact them.
  • Call your senator or representative by phone through the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.
  • Post about the bill on Twitter or Instagram using #hr4 or #votingrights.

Related Blog Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
[1] Congress.gov: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/4?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22HR+4%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=1
[2] Brennan Center for Justice: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/court-cases/shelby-county-v-holder
[3] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/25/politics/john-lewis-voting-rights-senate/index.html
[4] BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-45875045
[5] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/john-lewis-voting-rights-advancement-act-bill-passes-house/
[6] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/voting-us-supreme-court-laws-bills-voting-rights-40773a3825d282478a6e88dff887d2ce
[7] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/john-lewis-voting-rights-advancement-act-bill-passes-house/
[8] ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/house-passes-john-lewis-voting-rights-advancement-act/story?id=79620766
[9] Yahoo News: https://news.yahoo.com/house-passes-john-lewis-voting-233100948.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAHDfIk8Bh8gg6FazzAOzKxtygunr2fKkXt7DUNmf_zcQjPBk03WKaS8-0jKJ7qds3YZAe1tfR5k_veq-672TW3QFVVK7gx457xcM7T9cY-FwC8iHWdAhUs4HkSLWIbEn-1iO8_Z2gMbXf1NvBkRRN1sldGAfyi5v9Hq8-J9rSfVl
[10] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/24/politics/john-lewis-voting-rights-advancements-act-house/index.html
[11] Politico: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/08/24/house-passes-lewis-voting-rights-bill-506798
[12] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/voting-us-supreme-court-laws-bills-voting-rights-40773a3825d282478a6e88dff887d2ce
[13] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/24/politics/john-lewis-voting-rights-advancements-act-house/index.html
[14] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/manchin-murkowski-call-congress-reauthorize-voting-rights-act-n1267644

 

The House Passes a $3.5 Trillion Budget Framework

On August 24, the House of Representatives passed a $3.5 trillion spending bill, committed to passing an infrastructure bill, and moved forward with significant voting rights legislation.1 It was an important step in enacting such a large spending plan, but it was not the final step. Republicans and a number of conservative and moderate Democrats oppose some measures in the spending bill; thus, the final version of the legislation has not yet taken shape.2

What Is in the Current Spending Bill?

The budget framework includes the following spending targets:

  • Over $700 billion for universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, child care for working families, tuition-free community college, funding for historically Black colleges and universities, and other grants for higher education3
  • $330 billion to invest in public housing and housing affordability4
  • $200 billion for natural resources and clean energy development5
  • Over $100 billion to address forest fires and drought concerns and to reduce carbon emissions6
  • An increase in the debt ceiling7

Clearly, this bill would lead to significant, structural, economic changes by increasing access to education and housing and taking some steps to address environmental concerns.

What Are Supporters Saying?

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the initial architect of the spending plan, argued that the needs of working- and middle-class people “have been neglected for decades.”8 He noted that “three people own more wealth than the bottom 50%” and that “real wages for workers haven’t increased in almost 50 years.”9

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the budget framework “so transformative [that] we haven’t seen anything like it.”10 In a letter to his Democratic colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote, “When we took the majority in the Senate earlier this year, the American people entrusted us with a great responsibility: to make their lives better. I am happy to report that we are making great progress towards that goal.”11 He added, “The Democratic budget will bring a generational transformation to how our economy works for average Americans.”12

What Are Opponents Saying?

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., stated that she does not support such a large bill. “I have told Senate leadership and President Biden that I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans,” said Senator Sinema in a statement. “I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”13

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the budget framework a “historically reckless taxing and spending spree.”14

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “railed against the spending plan, saying it would fuel inflation, lead to higher taxes and energy costs for working Americans and open the border to more illegal immigration.”15

What’s Next?

Now that there are House and Senate versions of this framework, both chambers of Congress will move forward with outlining the specifics of the spending package.6 There are still hurdles to clear, as well as opportunities for citizens to weigh in by contacting their members of Congress.

Discussion Questions

  1. Review the list of what is included in the spending bill. Which of those items would you most highly prioritize? Which would you prioritize the least?
  2. Is there anything that you would add or subtract?
  3. Which arguments in support of this bill resonate most with you? Which arguments in opposition most resonate with you?
  4. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote on this bill? Explain or justify your vote.

Get Involved

  • Write to your House member about this issue. Use this directory to find out how to contact them.
  • Write to your senators about this issue. Use this directory to find out how to contact them.
  • Call your senators or representative using the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
[1] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/24/house-passes-budget-resolution-advances-infrastructure-bill.html
[2] Politico: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/08/23/sinema-35t-spending-bill-506583
[3] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/09/1026055615/senate-democrats-release-3-5t-budget-framework
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/24/us/politics/house-budget-social-safety-net.html
[8] Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-business-825739838a790668b2d2855a72821d56
[9] Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/infrastructure-trillion-reconciliation-bernie-sanders-biden-american-jobs-plan-ajp-11628023540
[10] Axios: https://www.axios.com/democrats-stall-35-trillion-budget-plan-negotiations-74f13c58-13fa-4788-9b11-afe0f5055561.html
[11] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/09/1026055615/senate-democrats-release-3-5t-budget-framework
[12] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/11/senate-passes-3point5-trillion-budget-resolution-after-infrastructure-bill.html
[13] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/sinema-opposes-3-5-trillion-price-tag-democrats-sweeping-social-n1275330
[14] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2021/08/11/1026635503/senate-passes-3-5t-budget
[15] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-senate-poised-pass-1-trillion-infrastructure-bill-debate-35-trillion-budget-2021-08-10/
[16] Politico: https://www.politico.com/news/2021/08/24/democrats-near-deal-to-break-budget-impasse-506749

 

 

2021 Summer Round-Up: Infrastructure, Afghanistan, the Delta Surge, and the Climate Crisis

As teachers welcome students back into the classroom, it is important to establish good habits and routines for the new school year. One important habit is incorporating current issues discussions into civics, social studies, and humanities courses. To help teachers get started on the right foot, we’re offering a round-up of some of the most important news stories of the past month and some discussion questions to engage students.

Infrastructure Bill Moves Forward

President Joe Biden’s administration cleared an important hurdle in its efforts to pass a massive infrastructure bill through Congress with a 69-30 vote in the Senate. Although the $1.2 trillion bill still needs House approval before the president can sign it, it has the potential to be the largest infrastructure investment ever passed by Congress.1

The bill needed at least 60 votes to pass the Senate. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaking vote. This breakdown, combined with Republicans’ use of the filibuster, means that for virtually any legislation to pass the Senate, Democrats must gain the support of at least 10 Republican senators.2 Given how strong the partisan divide in Congress has been for more than a decade, many Americans were skeptical that the Senate could reach any bipartisan agreement, with some urging senators to abolish the filibuster requirement of 60 votes. To the surprise of many, Senate Democrats were able to secure the support of not just ten but 19 Republican senators.3

LEARN MORE about the infrastructure bill and related issues

With the bill now in the House, it is almost a certainty that it will eventually pass but it remains unclear how long that will take and what the bill will contain by that time. Currently, the bill allocates funding for building new roads, bridges, and railways; repairing existing transportation infrastructure; and expanding broadband internet, clean air and water infrastructure, power systems, and pollution clean-up.4 The bill also represents a significant scaling back of the original $2.6 trillion plan, with the biggest changes being in the removal of many of the environmental initiatives.

House Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have said they will not support the new infrastructure bill unless much of the removed environmental funding is added to a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. Negotiating this process could take weeks if not months. However, since budget reconciliation bills require only 50 votes in the Senate, much of the additional spending could be signed into law with or without Republican support.5

The United States’ Infrastructure Report Card

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the Senate was able to reach a bipartisan agreement on the infrastructure bill (keeping in mind that the original bill was $2.6 trillion while the final bill is $1.2 trillion)?
  2. Should Congress continue to pursue bipartisanship? Or should congressional Democrats seek to pass their policies regardless of Republican support?

 

Afghanistan Withdrawal and the Taliban Offensive 

In April 2021, President Biden announced that he would press ahead with the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a move first sought by President Donald Trump’s administration. President Biden set September 11, 2021, as the deadline for withdrawal, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks (which were the impetus for the conflict).6 The United States has had combat troops continuously operating in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001, making this conflict the longest continuous military conflict in U.S. history.7

Walik Koshar/AFP/Getty Images - People waiting at Kabul airport to flee Afghanistan as U.S. soldiers stand guard.

In recent weeks, the Taliban, a militant group of Islamic fundamentalists, has launched successful offensives across Afghanistan as U.S. troops and officials have withdrawn. Prior to the war in Afghanistan, the United States assisted the Taliban in its efforts to combat an invasion by the Soviet Union in the 1980s. After repelling the Soviets, the Taliban became the ruling authority during the 1990s. The group also forged connections with and harbored al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization controlled by Osama bin Laden that carried out the 9/11 attacks.8

LEARN MORE about the modern history of Afghanistan

The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban in 2001. However, despite U.S. support over the past 20 years, the new government of Afghanistan has struggled to govern the country effectively as it has been plagued by corruption and infighting. The U.S.-trained Afghan military and police forces have not fared any better, offering little resistance to the Taliban’s resurgence. In recent days, the Taliban seized control of Kabul, the Afghan capital, and declared itself the only legitimate government of the country.9 Many Afghanis who worked with U.S. forces now fear for their lives, as the Taliban is notorious for torturing and executing those whom it considers to be traitors.10 The swift pace of the Taliban takeover, downplayed as “highly unlikely” by President Biden in July, has prompted both the United States and the United Kingdom to deploy thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan to protect evacuation efforts out of Kabul.11

LEARN MORE directly from lawmakers about the withdrawal from Afghanistan

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan even if it means surrendering the country back to the Taliban?
  2. What obligation, if any, does the United States have to those who support U.S. troops in countries where those troops are engaged in military action?

 

The Delta Variant and Mask Mandates

On May 13, 2021, President Biden celebrated an end to nearly all outdoor mask mandates and most indoor mask mandates for individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This announcement was heralded as a turning point on the road “back to normal.”12 However, as a vaccination rates began to plateau, it became apparent that a significant portion of the U.S. population (18 percent) had no intention of getting vaccinated.13 Disease experts feared that with such a large cohort of people refusing the vaccines, COVID-19 would continue to mutate and spread.14

There have been dozens of such mutations, with more virulent and contagious strains emerging. Particularly widespread in the United States and abroad is the Delta variant and its subvariants. The Delta variant is estimated to be twice as contagious as other variants, with some data suggesting it might cause more severe illness in unvaccinated persons than previous strains.15 It is important to note that all available data indicates that the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against the Delta variant. Almost all COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have occurred among people who are not vaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated.16 Still, as infection and hospitalization rates rose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for indoor masking and social distancing.

LEARN MORE about the impact of vaccination

In August, Arkansas set a record for hospitalizations, while health officials in Mississippi said that the state’s hospital system could collapse in a matter of days if the current caseload trajectory continues.17 This resurgence of COVID-19 cases across the country has prompted some areas to issue new mask mandates and others to refuse to issue new rules that follow federal guidance and CDC recommendations.18 Recently, some schools in Texas, Florida, and other highly impacted states refused to comply with their governors’ bans on mask mandates. And some schools and businesses around the country have begun to mandate vaccination for their employees and patrons.19

HEAR FROM lawmakers about the impacts of COVID-19 on students

Discussion Questions

  1. With the Delta variant on the rise, should schools be allowed to mandate that students and teachers wear masks? Should schools be returning to in-person classes?
  2. Many public schools in the United States already require vaccinations against illnesses such as measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and polio. Some of these illnesses are rarely fatal; others have the potential to be more harmful or deadly than COVID-19. Vaccination against COVID-19 is already available to those 12 or older and it is expected to become available for younger children pending approval. Should public schools be allowed to mandate vaccination against COVID-19 when it becomes available?

 

The IPCC Climate Report

On August 9, 2021, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of thousands of climate experts from 195 member nations, issued a dire report on the state of Earth’s climate and its implications for humanity’s immediate and long-term survival.20 The report states that human beings are “unequivocally” causing climate change and that the world may inevitably cross the 1.5oC overall temperature increase that has long been cited as a point of no return by climate scientists.21

Drawn from data from over 14,000 studies, the IPCC report details that once-in-50-year heatwaves now occur at least once a decade, and that historic flooding, hurricanes, and drought are to be expected for decades if not centuries to come. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report a “code red for humanity.”22

HEAR FROM lawmakers about their views on climate change and how to address it

Currently, vast stretches of the North American Pacific Coast, Siberia, the Mediterranean, and dozens of other places are experiencing wildfires of unprecedented scope.23 In July, historic flooding occurred in Western Europe, killing more than 200 people with almost 200 more still missing.24 And with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, disease and climate experts warn that climate change will contribute to new outbreaks of illnesses, particularly as mosquito populations spread with warmer weather.25

Leaders from around the world will meet in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 for a climate change conference. Climate activists and scientists are hopeful that leaders will be receptive to more aggressive policies to cut down on carbon emissions. The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement in February 2021, but climate advocates now argue that the targets set under that agreement are inadequate.26

VIEW the IPCC report and its implications

Discussion Questions

  1. Should the United States do more to combat climate change? If so, what sorts of actions should it take? If not, how should this challenge be addressed?
  2. The UN is an organization made up of voluntary members. Ultimately, it has little power to compel countries to comply with any resolution or recommendation it makes. This is particularly true of large, economically powerful countries. The United States, Russia, and China, in addition to being among the biggest producers of fossil fuel emissions, are permanent members of the UN Security Council, each with the individual authority to override any decision made by the UN. With the climate threat as imminent as the UN says it is, can the world actually take unified action to address it?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!

Related Blog Posts:

Build it and They Will Come – The Biden Infrastructure Plan

How Can We Overcome Vaccine Skepticism?

Time to Reform the Filibuster?

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: David Carpio/Shutterstock
[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/10/us/politics/infrastructure-bill-passes.html
[2] CNN News: https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2021/05/politics/filibuster-senate-explained/
[4] Ibid.
[4] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/07/28/upshot/infrastructure-breakdown.html
[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/13/us/politics/infrastructure-deal-budget.html
[6] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/07/08/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-drawdown-of-u-s-forces-in-afghanistan/
[7] https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2021-07-12/the-cost-of-the-afghanistan-war-in-lives-and-dollars#:~:text=The%20nearly%2020%2Dyear%20American,the%20United%20States’%20longest%20war.&text=July%2012%2C%202021%2C%20at%202%3A28%20p.m.&text=KNICKMEYER%2C%20Associated%20Press-,The%20nearly%2020%2Dyear%20American%20combat%20mission%20in%20Afghanistan,the%20United%20States’%20longest%20war.
[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718
[9] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/world/taliban-to-declare-islamic-emirate-of-afghanistan-official-297971
[10] https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/23/afghanistan-threats-taliban-atrocities-kandahar
[11] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/panic-grips-afghanistan-civilians-flee-taliban-s-relentless-advance-n1276528
[12] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/white-house-celebrates-new-end-mask-requirement-fully-vaccinated-n1267285
[13] https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2021/07/15/why-wont-americans-get-vaccinated-poll-data
[14] https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/coronavirus-variants-experts-fear-mutations-could-mean-covid-19-reinfections
[15] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/delta-variant.html
[16] https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/covid-19-vaccine-breakthrough-cases-data-from-the-states/
[17] https://www.npr.org/2021/08/12/1027103023/florida-mississippi-arkansas-hospitals-overwhelmed-covid-19-delta
[18] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html
[19] https://floridanewstimes.com/half-a-dozen-school-districts-are-arguing-or-arguing-to-disobey-the-governors-no-mask-mandate-order/320862/
[20] https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/ipcc-who-are-they
[21] https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/un-sounds-clarion-call-over-irreversible-climate-impacts-by-humans-2021-08-09/
[22] Ibid.
[23] https://gizmodo.com/here-are-the-5-major-regions-literally-on-fire-right-no-1847389046/slides/8
[24] https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/22/europe/germany-belgium-europe-floods-death-climate-intl/index.html
[25] https://earth.stanford.edu/news/how-does-climate-change-affect-disease#gs.8c0zs7
[26] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56901261