House majority whip James Clyburn on Sunday drew comparisons between what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called the danger of the "white moderate more devoted to order than justice" and the inability to pass federal voting reform in the 50-50 Senate.
Referencing the famous letter written from a Birmingham, Alabama, jail in 1963 in which King defends his demonstration tactics, the Democratic South Carolina congressman said on CNN's "State of the Union" that his party members should be working to "protect the vote with everything that we have got."
Democrats have vowed to pass voting reform in response to new state laws passed last year, inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, that have made it harder to vote. But circumventing the filibuster to do so seems unlikely as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona last week reiterated their refusal to change the rules.
"King told us in that letter that we are going to be made to repent, not just for the vitriolic words and deeds of bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people," Clyburn told co-anchor Jake Tapper.
The package, passed in the House along party lines last week, would create national election standards that would supersede state laws. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York had set Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as a deadline to pass the legislation, although that was revised after a Democratic senator tested positive for COVID-19.
Current rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation — a threshold that Senate Democrats can’t meet alone because they only have a 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. Republicans unanimously oppose the voting rights measures.
Speaking on ABC’s "This Week," Clyburn criticized his two Senate colleagues, although he said he held some hope the pair would change their minds.
"These two Democrats have decided that it is much more important to them to protect the voting rights of the minority on the Senate floor than to protect the voting rights of minorities in this great country of ours," Clyburn told co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
Later, speaking on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Clyburn said he endorsed President Joe Biden's comments in Atlanta last week, likening those who opposed the voting rights legislation to the former segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace and to Alabama politician Bull Connor, who encouraged violence against Civil Rights campaigners.
"When we came out of Reconstruction in 1876, we started losing the right to vote. We started losing other freedoms, and we called it Jim Crow," Clyburn told host Chuck Todd. "We had a very successful election in 2020 … And in reaction to that, Georgia, Texas and 17 other states started passing draconian voting rights laws. That, to me, is Jim Crow 2.0. And so I like the way the president said it because that's exactly what it is."
In response to Clyburn’s comments, Republican Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, speaking on "State of the Union," called both Biden’s and Clyburn's remarks misleading and said they would not bring people together.
"Now, if you're trying to call the United States of America to unity, trying to get us to where we will come to common ground, you don't end up spreading things that are untrue or, frankly, lies," Cassidy told Tapper. "And that's why people think we need the filibuster. Otherwise, you're just totally rolled by somebody who's willing to sacrifice truth to pursue their agenda."
Cassidy said if a voting law was found to be unconstitutional, it would be struck down by the courts.