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It's time to choose, Biden tells Republicans in fiery voting rights speech

World Jan 12, 2022 03:30PM ET
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© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden waves as he returns via Marine One to the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque     

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland

ATLANTA (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Tuesday made a full-throated appeal for U.S. voting rights legislation stalled in Congress, saying Democratic lawmakers should rewrite Senate rules to overcome Republican opposition.

In a speech designed to breathe life into the fight to pass federal voting laws and convince skeptical Democrats of his commitment, Biden called many Republicans cowardly and committed to changing the U.S. Senate "filibuster" to pass legislation.

Calling it a "battle for the soul of America," the Democratic president put the voting rights effort on par with the fight against segregation by slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Former President Donald Trump maintains the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats through voter fraud, despite investigations' finding no supporting evidence. Since then, Republican lawmakers in 19 states have passed dozens of laws making it harder to vote. Critics say these measures target minorities, who vote in greater proportions for Democrats.

Biden on Tuesday said Republicans must choose which side of history they want to be on, as he contrasted civil rights heroes with the country's most ardent white supremacists.

"Do you want to be on the side of Martin Luther King or George Wallace?" Biden asked, referring to the segregationist former Alabama governor.

His tone echoed remarks on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. Capitol, reflecting a new White House calculus after a year focused on working with Republicans. Supporters of Trump were attempting "a coup" on Jan. 6, 2021, Biden said Tuesday.

"Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America's right to vote," Biden said. "Not one."

Before Biden spoke, there was a moment of solemnity as he and Vice President Kamala Harris stood before King's gravesite, with King's family standing nearby, heads bowed. Biden and Harris later spoke on the shared campus of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, two historically Black schools.

Jesiah Osbourne, 21, a senior at Morehouse who gives Biden mixed reviews overall, said he credits the president for pushing for a cornerstone civil right even in the absence of a clear legislative path. "It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "There's no unity."

Many activists say Biden should have done more during his first year in office to push for reforms, and some, including Georgia's Stacey Abrams, did not attend his speech.

Biden told reporters on Tuesday that he spoke to Abrams, and despite a schedule mix-up, they are "on the same page."

"The President deeply understands that Congress must pass" the voting-rights bills "by whatever legislative means necessary," said Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia.

FILIBUSTER CARVE-OUT

Biden wants to build public support for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bills would make Election Day a holiday, register new voters and strengthen U.S. Justice Department oversight of local election jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.

Both bills have languished in the Senate under united opposition from Republicans, who argue they would impose questionable national standards on local elections.

Biden said if no breakthrough on the legislation can be achieved, lawmakers in the Senate should "change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this."

The filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver effectively requiring a 60-vote majority in the Senate for passage of most bills, instead of a simple majority.

"Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self," Biden said.

Republicans criticized Biden's proposal as overreach.

"What the Democrats have coined a 'voting rights' bill is really just a partisan, political power grab. And now they want to eliminate the filibuster in order to advance this terrible legislation, which would only compound confusion in our election process," Senator Mike Crapo said after Biden's speech.

It was Biden's most direct plea to date for the Senate to change its rules. Democrats, with only narrow control of the chamber, do not currently have the votes for such a maneuver.

Biden said he had had quiet conversations with lawmakers about the legislation in recent months, but "I'm tired of being quiet."

Newly passed laws in Republican states could impact as many as 55 million Americans, the White House said.

Georgia was a battleground state in the 2020 election, and Democrats won two crucial U.S. Senate seats there that gave them effective control of the chamber. Last year, the Republican-led state legislature approved sweeping voting restrictions 4. The Justice Department sued, saying the law infringes the rights of Black voters.

Democrats are girding themselves for tough 2022 congressional elections that could strip them of their majority and the chance to change federal voting laws.

It's time to choose, Biden tells Republicans in fiery voting rights speech
 

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Comments (17)
Jack Peterson
Jack Peterson Jan 24, 2022 11:54AM ET
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We do not choose you! That’s becoming quite clear….
durmus aydin
durmus aydin Jan 12, 2022 1:09PM ET
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inflation and covid 19 architect. poor old man..
John Doe
ForexInsiders Jan 12, 2022 10:47AM ET
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Anymore, I can only laugh at this ridiculous political rat show anymore.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun Jan 11, 2022 11:26PM ET
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Who is the real pres? Biden keeps saying ‘President Harris’
Red Riley
Red Riley Jan 11, 2022 11:11PM ET
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omg please
Michael Mcdonough
Michael Mcdonough Jan 11, 2022 10:27PM ET
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I would say cheap used car salemen but that would be disservice to used car salemen! Pathetic man..
Patrick Turner
Patrick Turner Jan 11, 2022 10:19PM ET
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Anything that Joe Biden desire is that of self interest and partisan politics protecting his gang of thugs.
Tyler Phillis
Tyler Phillis Jan 11, 2022 10:19PM ET
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Self interest? I would suggest that you check your premises. Nothing about Pres. Biden - implicit or otherwise - suggests a person acting in a selfish way. His words and his actions suggest no self…
Co Gonz
Co Gonz Jan 11, 2022 10:19PM ET
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Tyler Phillis i guess telling Ukraine to fire investigation into company his son was on the board of doesn’t constitute as selfish to you
Co Gonz
Co Gonz Jan 11, 2022 10:19PM ET
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Tyler Phillis i also guess having your son do illegal things for tons of money isn’t selfish either. The big man wants his cut
pcg upstate
pcg upstate Jan 11, 2022 8:16PM ET
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That was the most historic eloquent speech unmatched by any other US President. Lol!!!
John Nguyen
John Nguyen Jan 11, 2022 7:19PM ET
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it's time to fix the .... country.
Elephan Mann
Elephan Mann Jan 11, 2022 5:59PM ET
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I didn't know somebody was standing at the polling stations not allowing someone to vote who is legally able to. Can somebody provide a link to the news story where a legal US citizen was denied the right to vote? Surely there must be an epidemic of these stories for Democrats to be pushing the issue so hard, I would just like to read one of them.
Chris Cummins
Chris Cummins Jan 11, 2022 5:59PM ET
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Google voting lines in Mississippi. And do you think the poor can take the day off like the rich? Wake up?
Co Gonz
Co Gonz Jan 11, 2022 5:59PM ET
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Chris Cummins so you’re suggesting companies don’t give workers time to vote.. that is a state law and every state that i know of gives workers time to work. It doesn’t take an entire day but a couple of hours. I’ve been in that situation as a poor man..
 
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