In his Tuesday address on voting rights, President Joe Biden made an “appeal to my Republican colleagues, to those Republicans who believe in the rule of law: Restore the bipartisan tradition of voting rights.”
While there is a “bipartisan tradition” of supporting voting rights measures, the history isn’t as straightforward as Biden suggested.
While there is a “bipartisan tradition” of supporting voting rights measures in the modern era, the history isn’t as straightforward as Biden suggested.
To be sure, the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created with strong support from both parties. In the House, Democrats voted for the final bill by a margin of 217-54 and Republicans by a margin of 111-20; in the Senate, Democrats backed it 49-17 and Republicans 30-1.
Passage of the law, however, was simply the start. Because some of its special provisions were established as temporary measures, the Voting Rights Act was brought up for reauthorization and expansion over the next half century — in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992 and, most recently, 2006. At every point in this process, Biden noted, the law could count on backing from his Republican predecessors in the White House: “Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush. They all supported the Voting Rights Act.”
It wasn’t simply Republican presidents who supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, Biden noted. Republicans in Congress, like their Democratic colleagues, overwhelmingly embraced the measures, too.
“In 2006,” Biden stressed, “the Voting Rights Act passed 390 to 33 in the House of Representatives and 98 to 0 in the Senate.”
Biden marveled that even Strom Thurmond, the ardent segregationist who ran for president on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948 and left the Democratic Party in 1964 over its support for civil rights, finally came around to vote for the law. (“Wow,” said a member of the Atlanta audience. “You can say that again,” the president ad-libbed. “Wow.”)
On the surface, at least, the history seems clear: The Voting Rights Act was crafted with bipartisan backing and, over time, found ever greater support from Republicans and Democrats alike.
But the real history, as always, is a bit muddier.
For some Republicans, support for voting rights has been a solid stance grounded in principle. Even as their numbers were beginning to thin in the 1960s and 1970s, liberal and moderate Republicans provided crucial support for the original passage of the law and remained vocal...
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