Voting rights bill fails in Senate as focus shifts again to filibuster

US Capitol west side.JPG

The For the People Act, the sweeping voting rights bill championed by Democrats, was blocked in the Senate Tuesday as it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the evenly divided chamber.

The procedural vote to open debate on the bill was supported by all 50 Democrats and opposed by all 50 Republicans.

The legislation would have made it easier for people to vote by mandating 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, allowing for same-day voter registration and unlimited ballot collection, enacting automatic registration for federal elections and lowering identification requirements.

President Joe Biden called the vote "the suppression of a bill to end voter suppression—another attack on voting rights that is sadly not unprecedented."

"This fight is far from over—far from over. I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we are going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again—for the people, for our very democracy," the president said in a statement.

It would also ban the practice of partisan gerrymandering, in which state legislatures redraw congressional districts in irregular shapes that are designed to give their party an advantage. Good-government advocates say that nonpartisan commissions should redraw the lines every 10 years, after each census.

Republicans, meanwhile, argue that the For the People Act is a sweeping federal power grab that includes numerous impractical provisions. Some election experts agree with this assessment.

The Democrats focused on securing a unified agreement among all 50 members of their party in the Senate, including centrists like Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin last week released what he would like to see included, and he has been negotiating with other Senate Democrats to reach an agreement. On Tuesday afternoon, Manchin said he would vote in favor of moving forward with debate on the legislation, a win for Democrats.

Manchin would favor 15 days of early voting and making Election Day a public holiday, as well as automatic voter registration. But he also backs requiring voter ID and does not favor universal no-excuse absentee voting, two positions long embraced by many Republicans.

The Senate Democrats' unified front allowed them to approach Republican senators who might be open to supporting the bill, but also gives Democrats running for election in 2022 the ability to say that their party stood as one in favor of expanding voting access while Republicans would not even debate the issue. The odds of even Manchin’s proposal gaining the support of 10 Republicans are not at all high, and many see the demise of the effort as a fait accompli.

Two Republican senators who have voted with Democrats on some occasions — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — both panned the sweeping version of the bill favored by progressives. Murkowski called the original legislation “wholly partisan” and Collins criticized “over-the-top rhetoric” by Democrats.

But former President Barack Obama on Monday backed the Manchin effort and urged Republicans to join with Democrats in figuring out a way to increase both the security and the integrity of elections while also reducing barriers to voting.

“You’ve had President Obama come out,” Manchin told reporters in Washington, referring to the former president’s specific and unusual singling out of his compromise approach. “We’ve just got to keep working.”

If no agreement can be reached, the focus will shift to the filibuster rule, which has prevented Democrats from enacting key priorities without Republican support, like the elections bill overhaul.

Many progressives want Senate Democrats to vote to get rid of the legislative filibuster. Republicans eliminated the blocking procedure for Supreme Court nominations in 2017 in order to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, after Democrats got rid of it for judicial nominations other than the Supreme Court in 2013.

Democrats who want to do away with the legislative filibuster paint the current scenario in apocalyptic terms, saying that if the Senate does not pass the For the People Act, Republicans will be able to strong-arm and cheat their way to power in Congress, largely through voter suppression.

But that narrative doesn’t appear to have purchase with some number of Democrats, including possibly even President Biden.

It’s true that Republicans have supported legislation making it harder to vote for the last two decades, such as voter ID laws that allow gun permits but not college student IDs, limiting early voting and voting by mail, and removing people from voter rolls simply for not voting. They have also used dubious justification for doing so, claiming that serious fraud exists without ever providing evidence for their claims. On the other hand, studies suggest that turnout levels in elections do not have a partisan impact, and Democrats have not provided conclusive proof that voter suppression has kept their candidates from winning elections.

One of the most bitterly fought campaigns in which voter suppression became an issue was the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp. Kemp oversaw the race in his capacity as secretary of state — essentially serving as referee in a game in which he was competing — and enacted a number of measures that clearly made it harder for minority and poor voters to cast ballots.

Kemp won and Abrams contested the result, refusing to say she lost a fair election. Since then she has become revered by Democrats and reviled by Republicans.

Many Democrats remain convinced not only that democracy is at stake but that their party cannot win elections in which turnout is lower, despite evidence to the contrary.

Critics say there is much to be concerned about regarding the direction of the GOP, as former President Donald Trump continues to spread lies about the 2020 election outcome, making wildly false claims that he somehow won despite the complete absence of any evidence. And many in his party continue to either spread these lies or go along with them.

In fact, Congress has not done anything yet to counter efforts in Republican-controlled states to make it easier for state legislatures to overturn, change or meddle with election results after Election Day. This is the issue, liberals and good-government activists argue, that has the capacity to truly bring down American democracy.

As for the voting rights bill, Biden has chosen to focus his administration until now on reaching a bipartisan infrastructure deal with Republicans. It’s a clear attempt, politically speaking, to create a Democratic brand that can appeal to centrists and moderates in national elections.

This is the central tension driving the drama inside the Democratic Party, between those who think the party can win only by driving up turnout and appealing to its base, and those who believe Democrats have to attract and maintain broader support. Data supports the latter group, showing that the electorate is fluid, not static, with tens of millions of low-information voters and many millions more who are eligible and could vote in future elections but have not yet done so.

Recent examinations of the last election by Democratic strategists have also shown that Latino voters in particular are not as locked into the Democratic fold as many in the party have believed.

The Senate’s failure to reach a bipartisan infrastructure deal could set the Biden White House and the Democratic Party on a path of building public support for reforming or abolishing the filibuster, or simply toward passing as much as they can through budget reconciliation, a limited tool but one that allows them to pass certain provisions with only 50 votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris playing the role of tiebreaker.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday vowed that Biden will not abandon the cause of voting rights, but is taking a somewhat longer view.

“This fight is not over no matter the outcome today,” Psaki told reporters. “It is going to continue."

She also said the White House believed that the vote would “prompt a new conversation” about the filibuster rule in Congress.

But the path to abolishing the legislative filibuster continues to look unlikely. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., reiterated her opposition to doing so in a Washington Post op-ed on Tuesday, and she and Manchin are just the two most outspoken Democrats in the Senate who do not want to get rid of the procedure.

In the meantime, Attorney General Merrick Garland has vowed to combat voter suppression laws with renewed vigor, doubling the number of lawyers in the Justice Department's civil rights division in response to a rash of laws that have made it harder to vote in many states.

The For the People Act passed the Democrat-controlled House in March on a near-party-line vote. Not one Republican voted for it.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., excoriated his GOP colleagues over their opposition to expanding voting rights.

Schumer said there is a “rot at the center of the modern Republican Party” over efforts to restrict voting after Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

An official statement of policy released by the Biden administration Tuesday warned that “democracy is in peril, here in America.”

“The right to vote — a sacred right in this country — is under assault with an intensity and an aggressiveness we have not seen in a long time,” the statement read. “This landmark legislation is needed to protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, and repair and strengthen American democracy.”

 

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Closing racial wage gap in just 20 occupations would boost millions of Black Americans

Four thousand U.S. dollars are counted out by a banker counting currency at a bank in Westminster, Colorado November 3, 2009.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking

About 2 million Black Americans could climb into the middle class if they were given equal wages as their White co-workers, a new study from corporate consulting firm McKinsey estimates. 

Moving that many people to the middle class would benefit the larger U.S. economy as well as Black communities, said Shelley Stewart III, a McKinsey partner who led the study released Thursday. 

Newly minted middle-class families would have much less need for public assistance like food stamps and housing vouchers, thus reducing U.S. government spending on social service programs, Stewart said. Black households would earn an extra $220 billion in wages annually if the racial wealth gap were erased, and that in turn would generate more income for federal and state governments to tax, he added. 

Ultimately, if Black communities saw fairer levels of income "you would see a much more dynamic and robust local business environment," Stewart said. "You'd also see this snowball effect of wealth creation."

McKinsey's study peered through a crystal ball to envision how much stronger the economy would be if there were targeted moves from the private sector to bolster Black Americans in areas like the wage gap, entrepreneurship and wealth building. To unlock that stronger economy, employers behind more than 500 occupations would have to implement equal pay measures and banks would need to make a concentrated effort to lend to Black entrepreneurs, the McKinsey study concluded. 

"Daunting" but doable

A noteworthy wage gap between Black and White employees has persisted for years, Stewart and other researchers have said. A 2019 Payscale study, for instance, found that Black men earn 87 cents for every dollar a White man earns, even when both workers are equally qualified. Part of the disparity stems from Black Americans being historically excluded from high-paying roles and relegated to low-wage positions like janitor, store stocker, nursing assistant and school bus driver, according to the McKinsey study.

But enacting equal pay in just 20 types of jobs — including lawyer, software developer, accountant and construction manager — would close the racial wage gap by half, the study suggests. Other occupations where equal pay would make a serious dent, according to the study, are: 

  • marketing manager
  • sales manager
  • management analyst
  • engineer
  • professor
  • construction trades 
  • information system manager
  • retail supervisor
  • financial manager
  • middle school teacher
  • sales representative
  • operations manager
  • auditor
  • doctor
  • property manager
  • executive roles at government agencies

Completely erasing the wage gap would require long-term commitments from hundreds of thousands of employers, but that shouldn't stop one company from starting down that path, Stewart said. 

"While the problem has been long-standing and appears to be daunting, it's really a problem that can be solved by corporations and individuals in America adopting anti-racism as a core value," said Kevin Cohee, CEO of Black-owned OneUnited Bank in Boston who read the study and agreed with Stewart. 

Building a business

Aside from wages, corporations can also improve Black America by helping Black entrepreneurs increase the number of new businesses created, the McKinsey study found. 

However, if Black Americans were given loans and business coaching at the same rate as other ethnicities, their companies could generate $1.6 trillion in revenue and create 615,000 new Black firms, the McKinsey study estimated. New firms could continue to thrive, if larger companies added them to their diversity supplier lists, the study said. 

Building a successful business is crucial for Black Americans from low-income backgrounds because it potentially jumpstarts the bigger plan of creating wealth to pass on to future generations, said Darrin Williams, CEO of Black-owned Southern Bancorp of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. The McKinsey study offers a great road map for how to start that process, Williams said.

"Wealth building isn't just for the wealthy — it's for everyone," he said.

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How corporate America is approaching Juneteenth, the newest national holiday

The number of companies acknowledging Juneteenth is growing as corporate America seeks ways to deliver on diversity and inclusion pledges — although some question whether they’re truly fulfilling the spirit of those commitments.

President Joe Biden signed a law decreeing Juneteenth a national holiday on Thursday, adding the first new holiday to the federal calendar since President Ronald Reagan added Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Black activists have advocated for this outcome for years, but the visibility and resonance of Juneteenth acquired a new sense of urgency last year following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Although Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, June 19, 1865 marks the day the Union Army reached the outer limits of the former Confederacy and told Black citizens that they we

June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, so many companies elected to recognize it on Friday, the 18th. Due to the holiday being added to the federal calendar so close to the date, the stock market remained open on Friday, but the number of companies acknowledging Juneteenth is growing as corporate America seeks ways to deliver on diversity and inclusion pledges — although some question whether they’re truly fulfilling the spirit of those commitments.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean at the Yale School of Management and CEO of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, said a growing number of companies are embracing the holiday. “Many companies have been talking about this and already built this in as a paid day off or ‘holiday pay’ work day,” he told NBC News via email. “Many others are putting plans to be ready for next year,” he added.

A San Francisco Bay-area collective called HellaCreative developed a database of nearly 700 companies and nonprofits recognizing Juneteenth. The list includes industries ranging from tech to media to consumer goods, including Adobe, McKinsey & Company, Netflix, Ralph Lauren and Spotify.

Despite these initiatives, a lot of employees are still skeptical of their company’s commitment to expanding diversity and combating racism. A survey of employees at big and medium-sized companies by software company Benevity found that while workers noticed companies making statements or pledges in support of racial diversity, the impression is that relatively few have followed through: Only about one in four noticed their employer dedicating company resources to address issues around diversity and racism, and roughly the same number said their company had donated money in support of these goals. In total, about two-thirds of survey respondents who identified as a racial or ethnic minority said they couldn’t say that their employer had fulfilled the commitments it had made.

“So far, employees have only seen leadership talk the talk, without walking the walk.”

“So far, they have only seen leadership talk the talk, without walking the walk,” the company said in a report summarizing the findings. “The top ways employees have actually seen company leadership doing so is through lip-service, such as through company-wide messages or speaking more about these topics.”

The Society for Human Resource Management also found that companies are still grappling with racism and discrimination. A recent employee survey found that 19 percent had experienced racial or ethnic discrimination within the past five years, and 14 percent said they had experienced it within the past year.

According to an SHRM survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals conducted earlier this year, more than one in four said that the biggest challenge they faced in 2021 was meeting the goals they had set around diversity, equity and inclusion. More than one in three, though, said getting greater traction towards their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals was the aspect about which they are most optimistic in 2021.

It makes good business sense for companies to prioritize racial equality: New research from SHRM found that it cost American employers $172 billion in turnover costs over the past five years due to employees leaving because of discrimination or unfair treatment based on their race. Benevity’s survey found that 37 percent of employees said they would be likely to quit if their company failed to prioritize addressing social and racial injustice.

Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, said making the day a national holiday could give companies more motivation to observe the holiday. “I think this might be easier because it is now a national holiday,” he said. “Should be a no brainer.

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Amazon com : commits $150 million to empower Black entrepreneurs

Amazon's new Black Business Accelerator provides access to capital, business guidance, mentorship, and marketing support to help Black business owners succeed as sellers in Amazon's store.

Amazon is launching the Black Business Accelerator(BBA) to help build sustainable equity and growth for Black-owned businesses. The initiative-which explicitly targets barriers to access, opportunity, and advancement created by systemic racism across America-was created in partnership with our Black Employee Network and a coalition of strategic partners.

The BBA aims to drive economic equity for Black entrepreneurs, providing them with resources to thrive as entrepreneurs and business leaders. We are inviting Black business owners to explore and participate in this initiative, which provides financial support, business education and mentorship, and marketing and promotion of their brands and products as third-party sellers in our store.

Black entrepreneurs have less access to capital, mentorship, and growth opportunities. They are also significantly underrepresented in retail. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 6% of U.S. retail businesses have a Black owner-even though Black Americans represent 14% of the U.S. adult population.

Black-owned businesses have also been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. House Small Business Committee. This is why we are committing $150 million over the next four years to help thousands of Black entrepreneurs reach hundreds of millions of customers and become successful sellers on Amazon. Third-party sellers on Amazon-almost all of whom are small and medium-sized businesses-represent nearly 60% of product sales in our store and saw record sales growth in 2020. We would like more Black-owned businesses to enjoy this success.

Amazon's BBA will provide access to financial assistance, strategic business guidance and mentorship, and marketing and promotional support to help both current and aspiring Black small business owners grow their businesses and maximize the opportunities of selling on Amazon.

  • Financial assistance: BBA participants can access services and grants to help jump-start business growth and customer acquisition. Opportunities include Amazon credits and services valued at $3,900 that include free product imaging services and advertising credits. In addition, multiple teams across Amazon and our cloud computing division Amazon Web Services (AWS) are also excited to help fund an initial round of $10,000 cash grants in partnership with Hello Alice, an organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Applications for these grants will open on July 1, 2021, and be awarded on September 2, 2021. Additional details can be found at hialice.co/amazon.
  • Business education & mentorship: Participants can access a minimum of one year of free strategic advisory services to get the coaching, training, and insights needed to take their business to the next level. They can also connect with a dedicated network of business mentors, including Amazon experts and small business thought leaders, to continue to accelerate business growth.
  • Marketing & promotion: In the highly competitive retail space, it can be difficult for customers to find and shop products from Black-owned brands even though customers increasingly value shopping from diverse businesses. Through initiatives like the Black-owned business storefronts for both consumersand Amazon Business customersand promotions featuring Black-owned businesses, customers can find products from these businesses throughout the shopping experience. Amazon also recently launched discoverability enhancements that highlight products from minority-owned businesses in related search results, allowing customers to easily find and buy from certified businesses.

We're proud to have strategic partners collaborate with us on this initiative, including the Minority Business Development Agency and the U.S. Black Chambers Inc. (USBC). These organizations will lead community engagement for BBA and help us provide participants with mentorship, business development, training, and educational resources to empower their success. Our partners will continue to advise us as we enhance BBA based on their deep experience in supporting Black businesses. They will also help us as we create similar programs for other underrepresented populations of business owners. We anticipate welcoming additional partners and advisors in the future.

Ron Busby Sr., president and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers Inc., said, 'We applaud Amazon's leadership in responding to the racial inequities that led to a significant number of Black-owned businesses closing during the pandemic. The financial, educational, and mentoring resources Amazon will invest through the Black Business Accelerator will enable USBC-affiliated businesses and Black entrepreneurs to not only survive but thrive as they adapt to operating in a post-pandemic world.'

BBA and selling on Amazon unlocks a powerful and proven economic engine that enables entrepreneurs to build their brands and sell their products to our more than 300 million global customers. We know that customers value the wide selection and diversity of products offered by these businesses, and we are excited to see the offerings these new sellers will bring.

Over the last few months, we've piloted BBA's benefits with some of the Black-owned businesses already selling in our store to better understand how we can most effectively support them, and we have applied our learnings to further develop BBA and ensure it provides value. Here's what some pilot participants had to say about the program and selling on Amazon:

'Amazon provides an opportunity where everyone is welcome, and the door is open. We gained access to a huge customer base that provided the opportunity to offer our innovative products directly to millions of potential customers. We have depended on honest reviews and feedback from customers to improve, learn more about what our customers like, further innovate, and grow the business.'

Toyin Kolawole, CEO, Iya Foods
'Since enrolling in the Black Business Accelerator pilot, I've been able to enhance my listings with strategic optimization, imaging services, and building brand awareness using their advertising tools.'

Karen Blackwell, founder and CEO, Kanda Chocolates
'Through this program, we have a partner who has helped us better understand how to use Amazon's tools and analytics to expand our sales and help me connect with business customers.'

Rodney Marshall, founder and CEO, Aldevra

We are thrilled to embark on this journey to welcome many more Black business owners to the opportunities of selling on Amazon. We are optimistic about the potential to help them generate wealth for themselves, their employees, and their communities. To learn more about participating in the program, visit sell.amazon.com/bba.

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Darnella Frazier, Teen Who Filmed George Floyd’s Murder, Wins A Pulitzer Award

Darnella Frazier George Floyd

“She was the one who recorded a motion cinema picture that set the world on fire,” said George Floyd’s brother, Philonise.

Darnella Frazier, the teenager whose video of George Floyd’s murder went viral, fueling massive protests against police brutality around the world last year, has been awarded an honorary Pulitzer Prize.

In an announcement Friday afternoon, the Pulitzer Prize board commended Frazier “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd,” highlighting “the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quests for truth and justice.”

Frazier was just 17 years old on May 25, 2020, when she pulled out her cellphone to record Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.

In the words of George’s brother Philonise, the video “changed the world.”

“She was the one who recorded a motion cinema picture that set the world on fire,” he said just over a year later, after the video served as a key piece of evidence in Chauvin’s trial and conviction.

Frazier would go on to testify in Chauvin’s trial, where she was overcome with emotion as she recalled Floyd’s terror and fear and pain, which she shared with millions of people via her cellphone.

In a social media post on the first anniversary of Floyd’s death, she reflected on the moment she filmed, describing a trauma that’s reverberated through every aspect of her life.

“Although this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a black man get killed at the hands of the police, this is the first time I witnessed it happen in front of me,” Frazier wrote. “Right in front of my eyes, a few feet away. I didn’t know this man from a can of paint, but I knew his life mattered. I knew that he was in pain. I knew that he was another Black man in danger with no power.”

Frazier said the trauma has manifested in panic and anxiety attacks, insomnia, having to leave home over safety concerns, and “closing my eyes at night only to see a man who is brown like me, lifeless on the ground.”

“A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one,” she said. “I was just in the right place at the right time. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day.”

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