U.S. President Joe Biden has given a passionate speech on protecting American suffrage and called for a rewriting of Senate rules to override Republican opposition to election laws, which he says are crucial to saving American democracy.
- Sir. Biden has made his most direct request to date to the Senate to change its rules to allow action on the Democrats’ ballot.
- He seeks to pass bills that would expand access to the ballot and prevent practices he says are being used to oppress black voters
- Republicans have criticized Mr Biden’s proposal as excessive
Speaking in Atlanta, Georgia, the cradle of the civil rights movement, Mr. Biden called many Republicans cowards and pledged to change the “filibuster” of the U.S. Senate to pass legislation.
The Filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver that actually requires a 60-vote majority in the Senate to pass most bills instead of a simple majority.
The Democratic president called it a “struggle for the soul of America” and put the suffrage effort on a par with the fight against the separation of the slain civil rights leader, Pastor Martin Luther King Jr.
Former President Donald Trump maintains that the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats through voter fraud, despite investigations finding no supporting evidence.
Since then, Republican politicians in 19 states have passed dozens of laws that make it harder to vote.
Critics say these measures are aimed at minorities who vote in greater proportion on Democrats.
Biden compares opponents to white supremacists
Sir. Biden said Republicans need to choose which side of history they want to be on, as he contrasted civil rights heroes with the country’s most ardent white supremacy.
“Do you want to be on the side of Martin Luther Kings or George Wallace?” asked Biden, referring to the segregationist former Alabama governor.
His tone reiterated remarks on the one-year anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. capital, reflecting a new calculation by the White House after a year focused on working with Republicans.
Supporters of Mr Trump attempted “a coup” on January 6, 2021, Mr Biden said.
Before Mr Biden spoke, there was a moment of solemnity as he and Vice President Kamala Harris stood in front of King’s grave, with King’s family standing nearby, bowing their heads.
Sir. Biden and Mrs. Harris later spoke on the joint campus of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, two historic black schools.
Many activists say Mr Biden should have done more during his first year in office to push for reforms, and some, including Stacey Abrams, a prominent black politician and Georgia’s suffrage activist, did not attend his speech.
Sir. Biden told reporters he spoke to Mrs Abrams and despite a mix of schedule, they are “on the same page”.
“The president deeply understands that Congress must pass the ‘suffrage bills’ with the necessary legislative means,” said M Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia.
Calls to ‘get rid of filibuster’
Sir. 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 public holiday, register new voters and strengthen the U.S. Department of Justice’s oversight of local electoral jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.
Both bills have disappeared in the Senate amid united opposition from Republicans, who claim they would impose questionable national standards on local elections.
Sir. Biden said that if a breakthrough in legislation could not be achieved, Senate politicians should “change Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this”.
Republicans criticized Mr Biden’s proposal as excessive.
“What the Democrats have invented is a bill on ‘the right to vote’ is really just a party-political grip on power,” Senator Mike Crapo said after Mr Biden’s speech.
“And now they want to eliminate the filibuster to promote this horrible legislation, which would only create confusion in our electoral process.”
That was Mr Biden’s most direct appeal to the Senate to date to change its rules.
Democrats, with only narrow control over the House, do not currently have the votes for such a maneuver.
Sir. Biden said he had had quiet conversations with members of Congress about the legislation in recent months, but “I’m tired of being quiet”.
Newly enacted laws in Republican states could affect as many as 55 million Americans, the White House said.
Georgia was a battlefield state in the 2020 election, and the Democrats won two crucial U.S. Senate seats there, giving them effective control of the chamber.
Last year, the Republican-led state legislature approved extensive voting restrictions.
The Justice Department sued, saying the law violates the rights of black voters.
Democrats are pushing for tough congressional elections in 2022 that could deprive them of their majority and the chance to change federal voting laws.
Reuters / ABC
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