“I’ve had silent conversations with members of Congress for the past two months. I’m tired of being quiet,” Biden said, beating his hand on the lectern.
Without changing the rules, it’s unclear how both bills Biden plans to pass — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — will be implemented.
During the comments, made on the grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, Biden called for changes to the rules. He had previously expressed support for making an exception to the filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation, but expressed more flexibility on Tuesday.
“I support the change of the Senate rules, in whatever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking actions on voting rights,” he said.
The Senate is expected to take up voting rights in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set a January 17 deadline — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — for the Senate to vote on a rule change if Republicans continue to block voting laws.
Going back to his campaign slogan, the president told those in attendance in Atlanta that “the battle for America’s soul is not over” and linked the adoption of voting rights legislation directly to the January 6 uprising.
Biden recalled “the violent mob” that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and former President Donald Trump, who he said “tried to gain by force what he had lost at the ballot, to impose the will of a mob.” , to nullify free and fair elections, and for the first time in American history, to stop a peaceful transfer of power.”
“They have failed. They have failed. But the victory of democracy was not certain. Nor is the future of democracy,” Biden continued.
“Now is the time to decide”
The president said he delivered his speech in Atlanta “to oppose the forces in America that value power over principles, forces that attempted a coup d’état, a coup d’état against the legally expressed will of the American people by sowing doubt, accusations of fraud and trying to steal the 2020 elections from the people.”
Biden also expressed frustration that Republicans have not come out to support the voting rights bill, suggesting it broke previous precedent when both parties rallied behind the issue.
“The vice president and I have supported voting rights laws since the first day of this administration, but each time Senate Republicans have blocked the way,” he said. Republicans are even against debating the issue. Do you hear me? I’ve been in the Senate for a long time. I was vice president for eight years. I’ve never seen a circumstance where no Republican has a vote that’s ready. is to speak for justice now.”
The president recalled working with segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, who he said ultimately supported voting rights laws.
“Not a single Republican has shown the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s voting rights. Not one. Not one,” Biden said.
He said the narrow majority of Democrats in the U.S. Senate made achieving something a little more difficult, but that this moment, like other significant moments in history, presents a binary choice: Lawmakers face either siding with civil rights leaders such as King of siding with segregationists like former Alabama government George Wallace.
“Do you want to side with Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to side with John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to side with Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” asked Biden. “Now is the time to decide, to defend our elections, to defend our democracy. If you do, you won’t be alone.”
The president criticized states that introduce restrictive voter laws, including Georgia. He said Georgia’s new electoral law has been fueled by the “big lie” and is “intended to suppress your vote and undermine our elections”.
Shortly before Biden’s speech, Georgian Republican government leader Brian Kemp alleged that the Biden administration had lied about the state’s new 2021 voting law, claiming the legislation makes it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.” . The voting law passed in Georgia introduces new restrictions that have tightened voting rules.
“Make no mistake, Georgia is the basis for Biden-Harris’ attack on election integrity,” Kemp said. “This administration ignores facts and evidence and has lied about Georgia’s Election Integrity Act from the outset in an effort to force their unconstitutional federal takeover of the election on the American people.”
Biden was accompanied on the trip to Georgia by Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he appointed to lead the government’s work on voting rights.
In her pre-presidential remarks in Atlanta, Harris accused Republicans of obstructing voting rights legislation and said they “exploited” filibuster rules to block legislation.
“The United States Constitution gives Congress the power to pass legislation,” Harris said. “And nowhere, nowhere, does the Constitution give a minority the right to unilaterally block legislation. The American people have waited long enough.”
Harris also argued that Americans could face dire consequences if the nation becomes complacent about restrictive voter laws enacted in several states, including Georgia.
“The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American in every community in every political party. And if we stand by idly by, our entire country will pay the price for generations to come,” she said.
Several members of Congress, local officials and civil rights leaders joined Biden and Harris on various parts of the visit.
While in Atlanta, the President and Vice President laid wreaths at the crypt of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and visited the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Pressure from voting lawyers
Biden’s visit to Peach State, which took place less than a week before MLK Jr. Day comes under pressure from lawyers calling on Biden to more clearly outline a path to the passage of voting rights laws.
In a caustic statement following Biden’s speech, NAACP President Derrick Johnson said that “Unless President Biden applies the same level of urgency around voting rights as he did to (Build Back Better) and infrastructure, America may soon be unrecognizable.”
“While President Biden delivered a rousing speech today, it is time for this administration to match their words with deeds, and for Congress to do their job. Voting rights should not just be a priority — it should be THE priority.” added Johnson.
Rev. Al Sharpton, who met with Biden in Georgia after his speech, said in a statement that he told the president he delivered “a monumental speech and, although I challenged him for months to come, it was better late than never.” .”
“If the Democrats don’t stand up and support the incumbent Democratic president, it will show that they have betrayed their party and the American people, and that their legacy will be forever tarnished,” Sharpton said.
A number of voting rights groups have issued a letter stating that Biden and Harris should not visit Atlanta without a concrete plan to enact voting rights laws immediately. On Monday, a coalition of voting rights groups in Georgia announced they would not attend events surrounding Biden’s visit.
“We don’t need another speech. We don’t need him to come to Georgia and use us as a prop. What we need is work,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told John Berman from DailyExpertNews. on “New Day” Tuesday morning.
Albright said he would like to see the president approach voting rights in the same way he worked to get his bipartisan infrastructure bill passed and personally appeal to senators.
“When he says the next seven days will be historic and critical, he has to sit back completely after giving the speech, having the kind of meetings, to find out from (West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe) Manchin what exactly it is.” is going to take, and be very direct and powerful — just as powerful as he’s been on infrastructure and a few other things,” Albright said.
Albright added, “It’s no use having 40 years of Senate experience telling us you can’t beat two votes.”
Prominent Georgian leader Stacey Abrams — arguably the Democratic Party’s foremost voting rights attorney after using her 2018 governorship loss to Republican Brian Kemp to raise the issue — did not attend Biden’s speech. After the election, Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organization that advocates for voter protection across the country, and is running again this year.
The president said Tuesday morning that he had spoken “extensively” with Abrams, and attributed her absence from his upcoming address to a scheduling conflict. He said they maintain “a great relationship”.
“We are all on the same page and everything is fine,” he said.
After Biden’s speech, Abrams released a statement praising the president and vice president and saying they “reaffirmed today their commitment to restoring the Senate to protect our democracy.”
Abrams also nodded to the voting rights activists who said they would not attend the event in protest because they wanted action, not speeches.
“Georgian activists have joined the fight to protect the freedom to vote across the country, while at the same time carrying out a fundamental extension of power to a diverse electorate in our state. They have killed hundreds of thousands of Georgians, especially voters of color. , registered, engaged and inspired to exercise their electoral power, resulting in a political transformation of our state,” she said.
Jana Morgan, the director of Declaration for American Democracy, told DailyExpertNews she is “cautiously optimistic” about Biden’s speech, but sees it as a first step.
“We will be watching closely to make sure these comments are followed up,” Morgan said. She leads a coalition of organizations working for the right to vote.
Morgan said she wants the president to personally call on senators to get the voting rights legislation passed.
“He’s said this is the biggest test for our country since the Civil War, and I think he’s right because American democracy is under attack. So we wanted those strong words to be turned into action,” Morgan said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on his way to Georgia on Tuesday that Biden shares his own frustrations with voting rights activists over the deadlock over voting rights.
“He shares a desire to get this done. He shares their frustration that it isn’t done yet,” Psaki said.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
Kevin Liptak, Dan Merica, Fredreka Schouten, Betsy Klein, Jasmine Wright, Dan Merica and Sam Fossum of DailyExpertNews contributed to this report.