WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- President Joe Biden gave a strong endorsement of changing the Senate filibuster rule in order to pass the voting rights legislation.
- In a speech Tuesday, Biden said he was “tired of being quiet.”
- The president said Republicans have no courage “to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote”
President Joe Biden on Tuesday made a full-throated appeal for U.S. voting rights legislation stalled in Congress. The president said Democratic lawmakers should rewrite Senate rules to overcome Republican opposition.
In a speech, 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,” Biden put the voting rights effort on par with the fight against segregation by slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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.
“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.”
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on the shared campus of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, two historically Black schools.
Many activists say Biden should have done more during his first year in office to push for reforms. Georgia’s Stacey Abrams did not attend his speech due to “a schedule mix-up.”
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.
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.”
“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.
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.”