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Dems in Congress lack ‘sense of urgency’ on voting rights, NAACP president says

Texas Democrats fighting against a restrictive voting bill took their case to Washington Tuesday as President Joe Biden made his push for strengthening voting rights laws nationwide. Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, met with Biden along with other civil rights leaders last week to discuss voting rights. He joins Yamiche Alcindor now to weigh in on the country's ballot battle.

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  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We get a different view now from Derrick Johnson. He is the president and CEO of the NAACP.

    Last week, he met with President Biden to discuss voting rights, along with other civil rights leaders.

    President Johnson, thank you so much for joining us here.

    President Biden just delivered one of the most passionate speeches of his presidency. He called for a new coalition to be formed to push back on these voting laws. My question, though, is, what do you want to see in addition to these powerful words?

    Are you seeing enough action behind these words?

  • Derrick Johnson, NAACP President:

    Well, the words were powerful. They were impassioned. It shows his level of commitment verbally, but we're waiting to see the outcome of those commitments.

    One part of speech I thought was profound is when he quoted John Lewis, who said that freedom is action. In this moment, democracy is under attack, and we need to push back with actionable policy to ensure that all citizens are afforded access to voting.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, you talk about wanting to see the outcome here.

    You have the GOP, who has been quick and efficient. They have introduced hundreds of GOP-backed voting laws around the country. My question to you is, what do you make of this efficiency, as you see voting legislation stalled in Congress, and as you see the Supreme Court upholding some of those GOP-backed laws?

  • Derrick Johnson:

    Well, for Democrats, I commend them to try to hold fast to traditions and protocol.

    But, for Republicans, they're very clear on what they are seizing. They're seizing power. They don't care about democracy. Democracy is under attack. And for Democrats, we must stand up to be very clear that this type of attack will be met with equal force, so that our Constitution can be real.

    For the NAACP, this isn't a partisan issue. We have been in the exact same place from the '60s to current — in fact, we have been in exact same place for 112 years. During the '60s, we had to fight Democrats. Today, we're fighting Republicans.

    At the end of the day, it's not about partisanship. It's about our Constitution. It's about our rights to vote.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But what is your biggest concern, when you want to see that equal pushback? What are you not seeing? And how nervous are you, as you see Republicans really move with this efficiency?

  • Derrick Johnson:

    The sense of urgency from Democrats in Congress.

    This is squarely in the Senate. They must determine whether or not they're going to allow a procedural rule like the filibuster to prevent them from protecting the rights of votes, whether or not they're going to be quarantined to one method of getting this done, as opposed to pushing through what's necessary.

    This administration had a major accomplishment. That accomplishment happened through budget reconciliation. That's the only thing the Senate has been willing to move on. And if that's how we — that's the route we need to take, then that's what we need to do.

    If we don't do this before the census data is released, we're going to see a troubling outcome for every jurisdiction, from water boards to city councils, because redistricting start right behind that. And this would be the first redistricting that we will see without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, either Section 5 or Section 2, if they don't address this immediately.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, both you and President Biden have really compared these voting laws to Jim Crow. You have — also, the NAACP has filed a lawsuit. You have the DOJ also suing Georgia over its voting law.

    My question, though, is if Congress does not act, where does that leave you? Because some civil rights leaders say it can't just be litigation alone.

  • Derrick Johnson:

    Well, it's clear it will not be litigations. Not only it cannot be. It will not.

    The Supreme Court spoke loud two weeks ago, when they gutted Section 2. First, they gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now they have gutted Section 2. It must be legislative. It must be the Senate taking actions. The House have done their part. Now we are stalled in this pattern, as we are with other policy issues, because we have a Republican leader who's made it his mission not to allow this administration to be successful.

    The question is for the administration, will they allow Mitch McConnell to bully them and prevent democracy from really standing up and protecting the rights of voters, particularly African-Americans, but all voters? Because this is an issue for all citizens, not just one community.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    You brought up the filibuster.

    President Biden has not backed any sort of changes to the filibuster, other than saying that maybe we should bring back the talking filibuster. What do you make of where the president stands? Do you want to see him change his stance on the filibuster? Do you want to see what Jim Clyburn is talking about, Representative Jim Clyburn, saying that there needs to be at least a rule change for civil rights and voting laws to the filibuster?

  • Derrick Johnson:

    I want an outcome where the rights of citizens' vote are protected.

    How we get there is nuance. And I don't want to be distracted by whether or not we make an exception with the filibuster, we do away with the filibuster. I'm looking for protection of the right to vote. We are under a state of emergency. I understand with clarity that, if this isn't dubbed before the release of the census data, it would be a huge, huge problem for many citizens across the country.

    And we cannot afford to hold ourself out as being a leading democracy by allowing democracy to be subverted at the hands of this administration, this Senate or this Congress.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, do you see a way for some sort of voting legislation to pass, if it's not a change to the filibuster?

  • Derrick Johnson:

    Oh, absolutely.

    You could do it through bill reconciliation. You could make the exception to the filibuster. Or there are many other ways that I'm sure creative minds, once they get to the table, they can come up with.

    This is not about what cannot happen. We should be talking about what's possible. It has been the role of the NAACP, it has been the role of this nation to make what's possible what others see as impossible. When we get distracted about a procedural rule and forget that the substance is what matters, then we will be talking about a procedural rule.

    I want to talk about the substance and getting to a solution to protect the right of all voters.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We only have about 10 seconds left.

    But do you want to see the president change his stance on the filibuster?

  • Derrick Johnson:

    Oh, for multiple reasons, yes, I absolutely want to see the filibuster removed.

    This is a segregationist procedural rule that was perfected by the former senator from Mississippi Senator Eastland. And that should not be the case. Now, it was done to impede progress.

    But, right now, I'm more concerned with protecting the right to voters. If it takes the filibuster to be removed to make that happen, great. If we could do it without it, fine. I am concerned around the substance of the public policy, not the procedural rule.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP.

  • Derrick Johnson:

    Thank you.

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