Kamala Harris says shaky US democracy is biggest security threat

Vice president did not outline a path forward on voting rights legislation

Vice President Kamala Harris said world leaders frequently asked her about US voting rights during their meetings. AFP
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US Vice President Kamala Harris has said she views the tenuous state of American democracy as the country’s biggest threat.

“Frankly, one of them is our democracy,” she said during an interview with CBS TV on Sunday.

“There’s so much about foreign and domestic policy that, for example, was guided and prioritised based on September 11, 2001. And we are embarking on a new era where the threats to our nation take many forms, including the threat of autocracies taking over and having outsized influence around the world.”

Ms Harris had been asked for her assessment of the biggest national security risk facing the US.

President Joe Biden has sought to counter democratic backsliding around the world, going so far as to convene a global democracy summit earlier this month.

But his own entry into office was threatened in January when a mob of insurrectionists stormed Capitol Hill in failed bid to overturn the 2020 election results.

Former president Donald Trump, whose continued refusal to accept the election results spurred on by repeatedly disproven allegations of mass voter fraud, plans to deliver a speech next week to mark the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection attempt.

At the same time, Republican-held state legislatures have continued a more than decade-long endeavour to pass a new tranche of voter restriction laws.

At least 14 states have enacted at least 22 voter restriction laws this year alone as Republican state legislators echoed Mr Trump’s falsehoods regarding the 2020 election.

Ms Harris said during the CBS interview that world leaders frequently asked her about US voting rights during their meetings. She said that list included former German Chancellor Angela Merkel – interactions with whom the vice president called one of her “favourite” with a foreign leader.

At her own request, Ms Harris is leading the Biden administration’s campaign against Republican efforts to curtail voting rights.

But the vice president – who casts the tie-breaking vote in an evenly split Senate – has had little to show for it.

Earlier this year, Democrats in the Senate failed to pass legislation intended to protect voting rights across the country in a 50-50 party-line vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation as the result of a procedural mechanism in the upper chamber called the filibuster.

“We will do and look at whatever is necessary to push for Congress to take this issue on,” Ms Harris said.

“I believe that voting rights is one of the most significant issues facing us as individuals and leaders today. Voting rights leads to every other right. Every other right. And so we need to prioritise that as a nation.”

Still, she did not outline a plan on how to move voting rights legislation absent the 10 Republican votes the Biden administration would need in the Senate or filibuster reform.

Centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said they will not get on board reforming the filibuster in order to pass a voting rights package.

“We are going to urge the United States Congress – and we have been – to examine the tools they have available to do what is necessary to fight for and retain the integrity of our voting system in America.”

Mr Manchin recently dealt another blow to the Biden administration’s agenda by stating that he refuses to pack the White House’s ambitious spending package on social programmes and green energy initiatives.

The Biden administration had hoped to pass it along party lines using a procedural mechanism that circumvents the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold.

“I’m not giving up,” said Ms Harris. "The president’s not giving up. And, frankly, the stakes are too high.”

“The stakes are too high for this to be in any way about any specific individual.”

Updated: December 26, 2021, 5:42 PM