Patrick Semansky / AP
President Biden gave a scathing speech on Tuesday on what he called “the struggle for the soul of America,” and called for a direct rejection of GOP-led efforts to restrict American suffrage.
Talks with Vice President Harris, called on Biden to enforce electoral reform and for the Senate to override its procedural rule known as the filibuster to pass two bills to ensure access to the vote in all states.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate, designed to be the world’s largest deliberative body, has been made a shell of its former self. It gives me no satisfaction in saying so,” Biden said.
“But as an institutionalist, I think the threat to our democracy is so serious that we must find a way to pass these suffrage laws. Debate them, vote, let the majority win. And if the absolute minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this. ”
Biden made his remarks in Atlanta, Ga., Home of the civil rights legend, late rep. John Lewis, and one of many places where Republicans have enacted legislation to restrict eligible Americans’ voting rights.
These restrictions include restricting postal voting and eliminating same-day voter registration – measures that have been particularly burdensome for the poor and colored.
The president’s remarks were among his most powerful condemnations of both voter repression legislation introduced in a number of Republican-controlled cities and states, including Georgia, as well as for changing Senate filibuster rules.
Fallout from 6 January
Biden described this moment in history as “one of the rare moments in a country’s history where time stops and the essentials are immediately torn away from the trivial.”
The Capitol uprising on January 6, a year ago this month, was a recurring theme throughout Biden’s speech. He pointed to the deadly riots in which pro-Trump extremists tried to undermine Biden’s election certification, and to voter restriction laws introduced by Republicans in the months that followed, as evidence of subversive democracy.
Americans, he said, “must ensure that January 6 does not mark the end of democracy, but the beginning of a renaissance of our democracy.”
Biden warned that the United States is becoming an autocracy and said lawmakers will be judged on whether they support Democrats’ bills.
“Each of the members of the Senate will be judged by history on where they stood before the vote and where they stood after the vote. There is no escaping. Let’s get back to work,” he said.
“How do you want to be remembered,” Biden said, pitting famous human rights defenders against pro-segregation and anti-American activists: “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. Kings or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? “Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the time to decide. To defend our choices, to defend our democracy.”
Biden supported changing Senate rules “no matter how they change”
The Democrats’ two bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – would, among other changes, set new minimum standards for early voting and postal voting. The legislation has broad support among congressional Democrats, but Senate Republicans have used filibusters to push them into the legislative purgatory.
Biden’s call to at least temporarily do away with the filibuster to pass a bill on voting rights marked his hitherto sharpest condemnation of the Senate Republicans’ stone wall.
Biden had previously supported changing Senate rules by calling for a return to the speaking filibuster. Others have proposed a “cut” to allow for a simple majority in the legislation on the right to vote. On Tuesday, Biden supported changing Senate rules “however they need to be changed” to ensure the passage of bills.
Changing Senate rules would require all Democrats to be involved. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have defended the current filibuster.
Despite the lack of consensus in his party, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he plans to hold a vote on voting rights next week. If the vote is blocked, as expected, Schumer is considering two options – a return to the speaking filibuster or an elimination specific to voting rights legislation.