President Joe Biden walks away after a wreath laying at the tomb of the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, and his wife Coretta Scott King (Picture: AP)
In a landmark speech Tuesday, President Joe Biden endorsed changing Senate rules that have stalled voting rights legislation, saying he will not ‘yield’ or ‘flinch’ in the fight to protect democracy.
Biden, who once defended the filibuster during his 36 years in Congress, now says the rule, used by opponents of a proposed law to prevent its passage, ‘has been weaponized and abused.’
The President threw his full-fledged support behind changing the filibuster rule, saying it will make it easier to pass voting rights bills and ensure that ‘this basic right is defended.’
‘I’m making it clear: To protect our democracy, I support changing Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights,’ he said.
‘Pass the Freedom to Vote Act. Pass it now! … It’s also time to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,’ he said.
‘I’m tired of being quiet!’ he said, pounding the podium. ‘I will not yield. I will not flinch,’ in the effort to protect democracy.
Current rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation — a threshold that Senate Democrats can’t meet alone because they only have a 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties.
Republicans unanimously oppose the voting rights measures.
With Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer setting next Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr Day as a deadline to either pass voting legislation or consider revising the rules around the chamber’s filibuster blocking device, Biden fully aligned himself with the voting rights effort while also recalling the horrifying image of last year’s January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
‘We’re here today to stand against the forces in America that value power over principal,’ Biden said, making a reference to the attack on the US Capitol, which happened just over a year ago on January 6.
When introducing Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris shared they chose Atlanta for the speech because the city is the ‘cradle of the civil rights movement.’
In her speech, Harris warned that a barrage of laws making voting more difficult creates ‘a danger of becoming accustomed to these laws, a danger of adjusting to these laws as though they are normal.’
‘There is nothing normal about a law that makes it illegal to pass out water or food to people standing in long voter laws,’ she said, to much applause.
Earlier on in the day, Biden visited Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr once held forth from the pulpit. There, Martin Luther King III placed a wreath outside at the crypt of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
Some voting rights advocates planned to boycott Biden’s speech. Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, known for her untiring voting rights work, also was skipping the event.
The White House, however, said Abrams had a conflict but didn’t explain further, though she tweeted support for the president.
Voting rights advocates in Georgia and nationwide are increasingly anxious about what may happen in 2022 and onward. Many view the changes taking place across states as a subtler form of ballot restrictions once used to disenfranchise Black voters.
‘We’re beyond speeches. At this point, what we need, what we are demanding, is federal legislation,’ said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Votes Matter. And it can’t happen soon enough, she added, echoing a sentiment voiced by many activist groups.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejected some activists’ complaints that Biden hasn’t been a strong enough advocate.
‘We understand the frustration by many advocates that this is not passed into law, yet. He would love to have signed this into law himself,’ she said.
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