The vice president, who was arrested for leading the administration’s push for electoral reform legislation, spoke about Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of fighting for the right to vote, and about Lewis, Georgia’s congressman and civil rights icon who died in 2020.
Biden took the stage as number two and followed with a pointed message to the GOP legislators at the state and federal level. He often used Georgia as an example, and condemned Republican-led laws “designed to suppress your vote, to undermine our choices.”
“The goal of the former president and his allies is to deprive anyone who votes against them. It’s that simple. Facts do not matter. Your vote does not matter. They just want to decide what they want and then do it. It is the kind of power one sees in totalitarian states. Not in democracies, “Biden said, warning that” the struggle for the soul of America is not over. ”
The president urged the GOP to join Democrats in supporting the ballot and election reform proposals, reminding Republicans that re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act has historically taken place through a bipartisan agreement. “I’ve had these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months,” the president said. “I’m tired of being quiet.”
Tuesday’s speeches by Biden and Harris are timed with Senate Democrats’ moves on Capitol Hill, as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to force another vote on a bill on electoral reform as soon as this week. Schumer has repeatedly said that if Republicans block the bill, as expected, he will launch a movement to change the filibuster rules by Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Some Republicans in the Senate are currently negotiating with a small number of Democrats in the upper house on potential amendments to the Electoral Count Act, a 1887 law that sets out the process of certifying the results of presidential elections. The White House has said Republican cooperation on such changes would not deter their major efforts.
While Biden on Tuesday made it clear that the only way to protect the right to vote and ensure electoral security was to pass the two bills, he acknowledged that the strong Republican opposition stood in the way. He said he supports changing Senate rules and describes the filibuster as “armed” and “abused.”
“Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate, designed to be the world’s largest deliberative body, has been made into a shell by its former self. It gives me no satisfaction to say so. As an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in Senate, “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 voting laws. Discuss them. Vote. Let the majority win. And if the absolute minimum is blocked, we have no other option. than changing Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this. “
The president is working to garner support from moderates in his party such as Sens. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) And others who have not committed to support the President’s idea of changing Senate rules.
Biden did not speak on Tuesday and asked lawmakers if they wanted to be on the side of King or George Wallace, Lewis or Bull Connor and Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis. “This is the time to decide,” the president said.
“The question is, where will the institution of the U.S. Senate stand? Every senator, Democrat, Republican and independent will have to declare where they stand – not just for the moment, but for the times,” Biden said during his speech. “History has never been friendly to those who supported voter repression over the rights of the electorate, and it will be less kind to those who support electoral repression. “
His remarks Tuesday could be seen as another act for his fiery speech on the one-year anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, in which he tore in former President Donald Trump and his allies for holding “a dagger in the throat of America.” “And begged the Americans to” stand up for the rule of law, to preserve the flame of democracy, to keep the promise of America alive. ”
Bidens and Harris’ audience was a mix of basic voters and activists on the ground in Georgia, as well as Democratic lawmakers in the Senate. Civil rights leaders including Rainbow PUSH Coalition founder, Pastor Jesse Jackson, founder of the National Action Network, Pastor Al Sharpton, National Urban League President Marc Morial and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson personally attended the remarks, although a number of suffrage activists declined to attend Tuesday’s speeches. Georgia’s gubernatorial candidate and suffrage activist Stacey Abrams was also absent, citing a planning conflict.
One participant, NAACP’s Johnson, called Biden’s speech touching. As an echo of activists leading up to the president’s speech, he said it was time for the administration to “match their words with actions and for Congress to do their job.”
“Voting rights should not just be a priority – it should be a priority,” said the statement.
A coalition of suffrage groups that skipped Tuesday’s event issued a statement saying the organizations “appreciate” Biden and Harris for “reinforcing the need to protect our freedom to vote.” The statement from the organization founded by Abrams, Fair Fight Action and other Georgia-based suffrage groups said that “we look forward to fulfilling their commitment to ensure that we pass federal legislation on the right to vote,” and called on the Senate to take action.
“Without action, Republican-controlled legislatures will continue to pass – by simple majority – extreme anti-electoral laws that will block access to the ballot box and dramatically undermine our democratic institutions.” said the statement. “The Senate must be restored this week. Full stop. It’s time for Senators Manchin and Sinema to step up, do their job and do whatever it takes to pass these critical bills. The clock is ticking.”