By ALEXANDRA JAFFE, COLLEEN LONG and JEFF AMY
ATLANTA (AP) – Clapping his hand to insist, President Joe Biden challenged senators on Tuesday to “oppose voter suppression” by amending Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation that Republicans block debate and votes.
Biden told a crowd in Atlanta gathered on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University that he had low-key conversations with senators for months about the two bills – a lack of progress that has left him behind. earned criticism from activists in his own party.
“I’m sick of being silent!” He cried to the cheers of the crowd.
In his remarks, Biden invoked the civil rights battles of the 1960s. He compared the wrongs of the past to modern efforts to overturn the elections through the Capitol Riot a year ago and a series of laws GOP-backed policies passed after former President Donald Trump lost in 2020 and then falsely claimed it was widespread electoral fraud. Biden rebuked Republicans for joining behind Trump’s election lies.
“Today we call on Congress to do as history judges,” Biden said. “Spend the freedom to vote take action. “
Biden’s speech was forceful, direct and explicit, referring to new efforts to limit access to the vote under the name “Jim Crow 2.0”. For the first time, he directly advocated the elimination of the Senate vote blocking device called systematic obstruction in order to debate and vote on election and voting rights legislation. Although his focus draws more national attention to the upcoming debate, the impact of his new fire is unclear.
Current rules require 60 votes to advance most laws – a threshold that Senate Democrats cannot reach on their own as they only have a 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris to sever ties . Republicans unanimously oppose the voting rights measures.
There are also not enough Democratic votes to change the Senate rule. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin threw more cold water on the idea on Tuesday, saying he believed any changes should be made with substantial support from Republicans. And there is no Republican senator ready to sign.
“Not a single Republican has shown the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect Americans’ right to vote,” Biden said. “Not one. Not one.”
Congressional Democrats have drafted election legislation that would usher in the biggest overhaul of the U.S. election in a generation by removing voting barriers enacted in the name of election security. The legislation would also reduce the influence of big money in politics and limit partisan influence on the design of congressional constituencies.
The package would create national electoral standards that would trump GOP state-level laws. It would also restore the ability of the Department of Justice to enforce electoral laws in states with a history of discrimination.
Republicans say the changes are not about fairness but to give Democrats an advantage in elections.
Kentucky Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Biden of using “the brutal racial hatred of Jim Crow segregation to smear new state election laws.”
And it comes “from a sitting president of the United States who has pledged to lower the temperature and unite America,” McConnell said.
Even if Democrats remove barriers to passing the legislation, it could be too late to counter voting restrictions passed in 19 states after Trump’s 2020 defeat and his lies – passed by many GOP members – according to which elections were stolen by electoral fraud.
Voting rights advocates in Georgia and across the country are increasingly worried about what could happen in 2022 and beyond. They see the changes in many states as a more subtle form of voting restrictions like literacy tests and voting taxes once used to deprive black voters, a key Democratic constituency.
“It matters to all of us,” Biden insisted. “The goal of the former president and his allies is to deprive anyone who votes against him of the right to vote, it’s that simple.”
The president spent decades in the Senate and regretted how much that had changed for the worse, calling it a “shell of himself.” He spoke of a time not too long ago when an issue like the right to vote would never have been so fiercely partisan.
He recalled having worked with segregationist lawmakers in the Senate to pass legislation and then enact it by Republican presidents. But now, filibuster has been used frequently to block even debate on certain laws.
“How do you want you to be remembered?” He asked his former colleagues in Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., has set Martin Luther King Jr. Day next Monday as the deadline to pass a voting bill or consider revising the rules. Biden told his audience, “The next few days when these bills come to a vote will mark a turning point in the history of this country.”
“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I am. I will not give in. I won’t flinch, ”he said. “I will defend the right to vote, our democracy, against all foreign enemies, yes and national. The question is, where will the institution of the US Senate be?
Biden also visited the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke from the pulpit. He stood quietly as Martin Luther King III laid a wreath outside in the crypt of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
Some voting rights advocates boycotted Biden’s speech in frustration at Washington’s inaction. Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, known for her tireless work on voting rights, said she skipped the event due to a scheduling conflict, which she didn’t not explained further.
King said in a statement he was happy to welcome Biden, but also supported those who chose to skip the speech.
“We have seen what is possible when President Biden uses the full weight of his office to deliver bridges,” he said, referring to Biden’s successful campaign for an infrastructure spending deal of 1 Trillion dollars. “And now we have to see him do the same for voting rights. “
Republicans who have lined up behind Trump’s election disinformation are separately promoting efforts to influence future elections by installing sympathetic leaders in local election posts and supporting some of those who participated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol for elected office. .
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Biden on Tuesday, warning that the barrage of new state laws means there is “a danger of getting used to these laws, a danger of adapting to these laws. laws as if they were normal “.
“There is nothing normal about a law that makes it illegal to distribute food or water to people standing in long lines,” she said to the cheers.
Central to it all is Georgia, one of the main states on the 2020 election battlefield. After the votes are counted and recounted, Trump told the state’s top election official that he wanted the manager “finds” enough votes to reverse his defeat. The state’s votes went to Biden nonetheless, and his two Senate seats also went to Democrats.
Last year, the state’s Republican governor signed a radical rewrite of electoral rules that, among other things, gives the State Electoral Council new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace electoral officials. local election officials. This has led to concerns that the Republican-controlled state council might exert more influence over the administration of the elections, including the certification of the county’s results.
Amy reported from Atlanta. PA Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Brian Slodysko contributed to this report.