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Kamala Harris privately vented about Biden’s refusal to publicly support a change to the Senate rules to pass voting rights protections, book says

  • VP Harris was frustrated Biden didn’t call for filibuster reform for voting rights, book says. 
  • A forthcoming book details Harris’ private vexation with the lack of progress on her portfolio of issues. 
  • One unnamed senator characterized “Harris’s frustration level as ‘up in the stratosphere.'”

Vice President Kamala Harris privately vented that President Joe Biden made it hard for her to champion voting rights when he refused to call for reforms to the Senate filibuster, according to a forthcoming book.  

New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns shed more light on Harris’ frustrations in his forthcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future,” which is scheduled to be released in May. 

Politico Playbook reported some details from the book about Harris’ frustrations with Biden declining for months to advocate for filibuster reform on Tuesday. 

“How was she supposed to communicate clearly about voting-rights legislation, Harris asked West Wing aides, when the president would not even say that he supported changing the Senate rules to open the path for a bill?” Martin and Burns wrote. 

Harris asked to take on voting rights as the signature issue in her portfolio early last year, aiming to seize on Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress to pass federal protections to counteract voting and election restrictions at the state level. 

But the current filibuster rules require a three-fifths majority of 60 votes to advance to debate on most legislation, and no Republican Senators were willing to commit to vote for the sweeping voting rights packages that Democrats wanted to pass, creating a stalemate in a Senate divided between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans with Harris as the tiebreaker. 

And the White House remained tight-lipped in response to mounting frustration from activists about the lack of progress on voting rights, including growing pressure for Biden to openly lobby for party-line changes to the filibuster. 

Harris’ vexation with the lack of progress on the issue compounded her existing dissatisfaction with other parts of her portfolio, especially immigration, and Harris’ allies concerns that she was sidelined and not prioritized by the White House, according to the book and previous news reports.

“One senator close to her, describing Harris’s frustration level as ‘up in the stratosphere,’ lamented that Harris’s political decline was a ‘slow-rolling Greek tragedy,'” Martin and Burns wrote in the book. “Her approval numbers were even lower than Biden’s, and other Democrats were already eyeing the 2024 race if Biden declined to run.”

Biden, who served in the chamber for 36 years before becoming vice president and maintains close relationships with many senators, was reticent to publicly push the Senate to change the filibuster. White House press secretary Jen Psaki also repeatedly demurred on the issue, saying it was a matter for Congress. 

At one point, Harris finally directly told Biden himself that she couldn’t most effectively push for federal action on voting rights unless “voters knew that Biden himself was willing to back the procedural steps required” to pass the bill. 

Finally, after months of holding back, Biden took the step of calling for filibuster reform in a forceful January speech on voting rights in Atlanta. 

Biden, describing the Senate as “a shell of its former self,” argued that the Senate filibuster has been “weaponized” and “abused” while state legislatures are able to pass voting restrictions with simple majorities. 

“I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights,” Biden said.

A week leader, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer held a vote to create a special filibuster carevout for a voting rights bill via the nuclear option, which allows the Senate to change its own rules with a simple majority vote instead of the three-fourths majority usually needed to change the filibuster rules. 

But Biden’s plea to Senate Democrats to blow up the chamber’s rules failed to move two key Democratic swing senators, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes were needed to change the filibuster rules.