Live updates: Biden and Harris call for voting rights laws in speeches
WASHINGTON – President Biden approved changing Senate rules to pass new voting rights protections during a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, the most important step he has taken to pressure lawmakers to they are acting on an issue he called the biggest test of American democracy since the Civil War.
Mr Biden did not go so far as to call for the large-scale elimination of filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to block legislation that does not garner 60 votes, but said he argued for an exception to filibuster in the case. voting rights. Either company has a slim chance of winning the support of the 50 Senate Democrats, who already face threats of retaliation from Republicans in the chamber.
But Mr Biden, recounting a series of restrictive voting measures in place across the country, said Republicans stood on the wrong side of a moral imperative to protect “the heart and soul” of American democracy. .
“As an institutionalist, I think the threat to our democracy is so great that we have to find a way to pass these voting bills,” Biden said during his address at the meeting. press conference. Atlanta University Center Consortium, a consortium of four historically black colleges and universities. “Let the majority prevail, and if this bare minimum is blocked, we have no choice but to change the rules of the Senate, including getting rid of the filibuster for it.”
Mr Biden’s visit to Georgia was aimed at boosting a Democrat-led effort to pass new protections for Senate voting rights at 50-50 in the coming days, though chances are slim that he will be able to rally the necessary voices. Yet even with his new call for filibuster exceptions, changing Senate rules would require the support of the 50 Democrats and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie. Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, have expressed strong public opposition to changing the filibuster rules.
“I ask all elected American officials,” Mr. Biden said in Atlanta. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace.” Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? “
The president takes a bet by raising an issue that he may not be able to resolve. But after exhausting his political capital on other efforts, including a bipartisan infrastructure deal and a stalled social spending plan, he faces growing frustration from allies who say he doesn’t ‘hasn’t done enough as restrictive voting measures pass through Republican-led state houses across the country. Mr Biden’s advisers have pledged he will strongly support two voting rights bills that could roll back those efforts.
A bill introduced by the Democrats, the Freedom to Vote Act, would, among other provisions, curb state efforts to restrict postal or postal voting, to make Election Day a day. holiday and prevent state lawmakers from redesigning districts in a way that advocates say denies representation to minority voters. Another, the John Lewis Advancement of Voting Rights Act, would restore crucial anti-discrimination elements of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
A bipartisan way forward is virtually impossible. Mr Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate and considers himself a consensus builder, has faced resistance from Republicans over voting rights legislation.
Last week, New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said Republicans may have until Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to drop their opposition to debate and votes on the issue. , or face the prospect of revising the filibuster rules. .
Many Democrats say such an exclusion would only apply to constitutional rights-based issues such as voting. But Republicans and others say it would inevitably be extended to other laws, diminishing the overall power of filibuster. Republicans also argued that Democrats were using voting rights legislation to try to gain a partisan advantage by seeking to impose their preferred rules on states that have long regulated their own elections and have threatened to cripple the chamber if the Democrats were pursuing this path. .
“The big lie on the left is that states are actively trying to make it harder for people to vote,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Minority Leader, adopting the slogan Democrats use to describe the Donald J. Trump’s False Statements About Voters. fraud in 2020. “This is not happening. Have crazy people and lawmakers introduced bills that would? Yes, but none of them pass.
Campaigners say these critics ignore glaring examples of voter suppression. Voting rights groups in Georgia have previously filed a federal lawsuit that accuses lawmakers of redesigning a congressional district to benefit Republican candidates and denying representation to black voters. In her own series of remarks, Ms Harris said Americans were facing “A danger of adapting to these laws as if they were normal,” probably a response to Republicans who say state-level laws have simply reversed those relaxed during the pandemic.
“Nowhere does the Constitution give the minority the ability to unilaterally block legislation,” Ms. Harris said, targeting the filibuster.
In Georgia, Mr Biden and Ms Harris relied heavily on the power of symbolism as they visited the former district of Mr Lewis, the Georgian congressman and civil rights icon whose legislation is named after him. . Mr Lewis, the son of a sharecropper, was bloodied in the Jim Crow South while defending racial fairness and the right to vote.
He and the Vice President visited the crypt of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. They also visited the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr King and Mr Lewis praised. Senator Raphael Warnock, the state’s first black senator and a Democrat running for a full term this year after a second-round victory, is a senior pastor there.
Georgia, a state Mr Biden won with just 11,779 votes, has also seen some of the most sweeping attempts by Republicans to assert partisan power in elections, including restricting postal, mail, or advance voting. Critics say similar laws have spread across the country in response to false claims by former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters that the 2020 election has been rigged. Last week, observing the anniversary of the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol, Mr. Biden denounced these theories: “You cannot be a patriot when you embrace and allow lies. “
Some prominent activists offered moderate support ahead of the president’s speech, angered by what they described as lack of attention as state-level restrictions take effect. Bee Nguyen, state representative for Georgia and Democratic candidate for secretary of state, said she tried to point out in the White House that activists need to hear more than encouragement to simply organize the removal of voters, one of the strategies of the Biden administration. officials encouraged in their engagement with activists.
“The burden should not be on the shoulders of black and brown Georgians just to exercise their right to vote,” Ms. Nguyen said. “If we can’t do that, it will be really hard to get out of what we are seeing. ”
Representative Terri A. Sewell, Democrat of Alabama, who introduced the bill named after Mr. Lewis in August, said she was “pretty clear” about her expectations before agreeing to the bill. to travel to Atlanta with Mr. Biden and Mrs. Harris. She said she was assured the president would not only talk about the need for voting rights, but present a plan to get there that would include a change in Senate rules.
“It was Georgian voters who gave him the presidency and gave us the slim majority we have in the Senate,” Sewell said. “I know he knows we may have to do this on our own.”
Others refused to attend. Stacey Abrams, a voting rights advocate and Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, was not present at the speech due to a conflict, an aide to Ms Abrams said. The person declined to give details of the conflict.
A prominent family agreed to attend. Martin Luther King III, the living eldest son of the civil rights leader, and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, met privately with Mr. Biden in Atlanta in front of the President and the King family, who have planned a series of marches to lobby on Democrats. to pass the legislation, visited the crypt of the civil rights leader.
Before meeting with the president, King said he wanted to let him know that his visit to Georgia could only be a formality.
“We have seen what is possible when President Biden uses the full weight of his office to deliver bridges,” King said in a statement. “And now we have to see him do the same for voting rights. “
When asked, on his way to Ebenezer Baptist Church, what he would say to campaigners worried that his embrace of the Senate rule change was too small and too late, Mr. Biden paused and lowered his mask.
“Keep the faith,” replied the president, then entered the church.
Nick corasaniti contributed reporting from New York, Carl Hulse from Washington, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Atlanta.