For black and Hispanic leaders, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington offers not only a chance to commemorate the civil-rights movement, but also an opportunity to make a high-profile push for some of their top public-policy priorities.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who were already fighting restrictive voter-ID laws in several states, took another hit earlier this year when the Supreme Court gutted part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Meanwhile, advocates for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship have spent the summer urging Republicans to join their cause, but they remain largely at the mercy of the GOP.
Both communities see the themes of the 1963 march — and the call for equal rights and jobs memorialized in Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech — as applicable to the battles they are fighting today.
“What you’ll hear is people articulating a national agenda of how we can move both economic and political empowerment forward,” said Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., whose state sparked the Supreme Court case over the Voting Rights Act. “We owe it to the legacy of those freedom fighters to continue to make strides forward, not just on the political front, but on the economic front as well.”
Although this weekend’s march is celebrating an event from 50 years ago, participants are portraying it as the chance to renew the civil-rights movement with a focus on both voting rights and economic inequality. Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the CBC, and John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil-rights icon, will be among those speaking.
“While it is a celebration of the milestones that we’ve accomplished, the many goals that we’ve accomplished, at the same time it’s a time to guard what we have accomplished,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “We’re talking about basic rights, we’re talking about people trying to live the very best lives that we can, we’re talking about equality and equity, and I think that, in a way, it’s what Dr. King talked about.”
Cummings said it would be “political malpractice” to omit the Voting Rights Act as a central topic of the weekend’s events. The speakers will address the broad importance of the law, he said, but might also call upon specific members — like House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio — to take action.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the formula that determined that nine, mostly Southern states must seek advance approval from the federal government before changing their election laws. That formula, the Court said, was out of date, and without it, the section of the law mandating that states seek preclearance loses its teeth.
The Supreme Court left the law in Congress’s hands, saying it could still seek to oversee those states by writing a new formula, but lawmakers have taken only preliminary steps to do so. In June, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary’s Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee held hearings on the Supreme Court decision. Only Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has stressed the importance of quick action to restore the full force of the law.
For now, the Obama administration has shouldered most of the work of individually challenging state laws they find to be discriminatory. On Thursday, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging Texas’s new voter identification law. DOJ is also joining an additional suit over the state’s redistricting laws.
Meanwhile, the pace of work on immigration reform has slowed significantly since the Senate passed a bill in late June. The House of Representatives left for the August recess with no definitive floor action scheduled on the handful of bills that have come out of committee. There is no pending legislation that addresses a solution for most of the million of immigrants living illegally in the United States.
Proponents of a path to citizenship, who have been actively advocating for an immigration-reform bill over the congressional recess, are using the march to press for quick action on their priorities. Janet MurguÃa, the president of the National Council of La Raza, told reporters on a conference call that King’s speech 50 years ago resonated with the Latino community. “He remains a beloved icon to everyone,” she said.
“African-Americans understand the inherent power of citizenship,” said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who spoke to reporters on the conference call with MurguÃa and others. Leaders from both the black and Hispanic communities have said joining efforts will make them stronger, not dilute either message.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, perhaps the most prominent Democratic advocate for immigration reform, made this case from his own personal experience. “Quite simply, without the march and the movement, there is no Voting Rights Act, and with no Voting Rights Act, there is no majority Latino district carved out in Chicago in 1990,” he said. “I wouldn’t be on this call as Rep. Luis Gutierrez.”
What We're Following See More »
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.