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In Impassioned Speech, Biden Declares GOP State Voting Restrictions ‘Un-American’

July 13, 2021 by Dan McCue
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia, the birthplace of the nation, on Tuesday to declare that preserving voting rights for all is the “test of our time.”

Speaking at the National Constitution Center, Biden called the efforts to curtail voting accessibility “un-American” and “un-democratic” and offered his strongest condemnation yet of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who baselessly alleged misconduct in the 2020 election after his defeat. 

Biden called passage of congressional proposals to override new state voting restrictions and to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act that were curbed in recent years by the Supreme Court “a national imperative.”

To date this year, 28 laws characterized as attempts at voter suppression have been passed across 17 states. 

During a gaggle with reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, said the irony is the 2020 election “stands as a model for the trustworthiness and precision of our system.”

“Over 80 judges, including judges appointed by [Donald Trump], threw out every challenge to it,” Jean-Pierre said.

White House aides said Biden’s speech was intended to rally the public and build pressure for passage of the For the People Act, federal legislation to preserve voting rights in every corner of the country.

The legislation, which Senate Republicans have blocked, would for the first time create national standards for voting and would roll back some of the restrictions that have been approved or are advancing in Republican-led states.

Most Republicans are similarly opposed to a separate bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore sections of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court has weakened.

The Republican’s opposition to the bills has increased focus on Senate filibuster rules, which, if left in place, would seem to provide an insurmountable roadblock, requiring 60 votes in the evenly split, 100-member chamber to even bring up controversial legislation. 

Republicans have been unanimous in opposition to eliminating the filibuster, and it would take elimination or at least modification for the bills to have a chance of passage.

Moderate Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona also have so far expressed reluctance to change the Senate rules.

Many Democrats have expressed frustration with the lack of a greater White House push to change the filibuster, with civil rights activists stressing that Biden was elected with broad support from Black people whose votes are often put at risk by voting restrictions. 

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a longtime Biden ally, urged this week that the filibuster be modified for voting rights legislation.

But on Tuesday, Biden avoided any mention of the filibuster. Instead he said he would launch a nationwide campaign to arm voters with information on rules changes and restrictions ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

“We have to prepare now,” the president said.

As he left the event to return to Washington, Biden worked the rope line for roughly 38 minutes, greeting supporters.

In response to reporters’ shouted questions about the filibuster, he said, “I’m not filibustering now.”

Among those who responded almost immediately to the president’s remarks was Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center and SPLC Action Fund, who called it “a needed call to action.”

“Throughout our history, enemies of democracy have attempted to silence the will of the people by restricting voting rights and political participation, especially for Black Americans,” Huang said. 

“In the past, the strategy of the enemies of multiracial democracy was to prevent nearly every Black American and other non-White Americans from participating in democracy through widespread racial terror and violence. In the present, their strategy usually is to create as many obstacles to the ballot as possible targeted at Black voters, Latinx voters, low-income voters, young voters, new voters and voters with disabilities to hamper those voters’ ability to elect and be represented by candidates of their choice. 

“On January 6, their strategy was a call-back to the violent tactics of the past to prevent election results from being certified,” she said.

“President Biden accurately characterized the anti-democracy actions by state legislators and others following January 6: ‘There’s an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections…So make no mistake: Bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country.’

“We must all gather the power we have to protect and exercise our right to vote and ensure it is available to and used by our families, neighbors, and communities to build a democracy that truly works for everyone,” Huang said, adding, “The promise of democracy is not guaranteed; it must be fought for and protected. We will continue this fight until it is won.”

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