President Joe Biden took aim at Republican state legislatures’ election security laws in his speech marking Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, using his address memorializing the slain civil rights leader to attack his rivals and push his federal voting rights legislation.
Biden called on elected officials to make ‘clear where they stand’ on voting reform after his most recent attempt to pass the federal legislation fell apart last week amid inter-Democratic Party squabbling.
He compared today’s struggle over how to ensure free and fair elections to King’s hard-fought battle for equality and said the January 6 Capitol riot was proof that attacks on democracy from the right ‘are real.’
‘Vice President Harris and I visited Atlanta, Georgia, the cradle of civil rights in America,’ Biden began, referring to his trip early last week.
‘We paused and prayed at the crypt of Dr. and Mrs. King, we met members of their family…we met students who are changing the world just like generations of young people before them had done that — in fact, Dr. King was just one of those young people.’
Biden said King was a ’15-year-old student at Morehouse College’ when he set out on a path to a ‘promise that holds that we’re all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives.’
Biden called on all elected officials across the country to make clear ‘where they stand’ on voting rights in his brief Monday morning address
‘Dr. King wasn’t just a dreamer of that promise, he was a doer. And on this federal holiday that honors him, it’s not just enough to praise him. We must commit to his unfinished work, to deliver jobs and justice, to protect the sacred right to vote, the right from which all other rights flow,’ he continued.
The president pivoted to a harsher tone as he accused Republicans of ‘attacking’ American democracy over their election security measures and once again invoked the deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol.
‘Attack (sic) on our democracy is real, from the January 6 insurrection to the onslaught of Republicans’ anti-voting laws in a number of states. It’s no longer just about who gets to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote, and whether your vote counts at all,’ Biden said.
He said GOP efforts to strengthen security at the ballot box were about ‘two things: voter suppression and election subversion.’
Biden said King ‘held up a mirror to America’ that’s now being ‘held up again’
‘In his time, through his courage, his conviction, his commitment, Dr. King held a mirror up to America and forced us to answer the question: Where do we stand? Whose side are we on?’ Biden said.
‘We’re in another moment right now, where the mirror is being held up to America, being held up again. The question being asked again: Where do we stand? Whose side are we on? Will we stand against voter suppression, yes or no? Will we stand against election subversion, yes or no?
‘Will we stand up for America where everyone is guaranteed the full protections and the full promise of this nation, yes or no?’
The president called on ‘elected officials’ nationwide to make their stance on voting rights reform clear.
‘I know where I stand. And it’s time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand,’ he said.
Biden, who won the White House on the promise of unifying the country, now urged all Americans to make clear ‘whose side are you on’ over voting rights.
‘It’s time for every American to stand up, speak out, be heard: where do you stand? Whose side are you on?’ he asked.
Harris marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day by quoting the slain icon.
‘I often turn to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for inspiration. Today, I’m keeping these words in mind: the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ the vice president wrote on Twitter along with an image of herself and Biden at King’s memorial.
Despite its likely failure, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the election bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, on Tuesday.
Last week Biden delivered a fiery speech promoting his voting rights legislation in Atlanta, where the president compared Republican opponents of the measure to infamous figures like Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.
Kamala Harris quoted Martin Luther King Jr. along with an image of herself and Biden at his memorial
His remarks earned swift criticism from GOP members of Congress and even prompted a fellow Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin, to say they may have gone ‘a bit too far.’
The address alone served to divide his own party, with other Democrats like Rep. James Clyburn telling NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday that he endorsed it ‘wholeheartedly.’
But their chances of passing federal voter protections dimmed after two key centrists, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, opposed changing Senate rules to allow the bill to pass on Democrats’ razor-thin 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.
Previous efforts to pass election bills through the Senate have died at the hands of a Republican filibuster, which needs 60 votes to be overcome.
On Sunday Clyburn, a longtime Biden ally, admitted the current bill ‘may be on life support’ but indicated they were not giving up on finding ways to pass it.
The president compared opposition to the civil rights movement of the 1960s to the Capitol rioters and Republican legislatures passing election laws today
Biden’s voting rights push: What’s in the John Lewis Act and the Freedom to Vote Act
The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act together would make Election Day a holiday, expand access to mail-in voting and strengthen U.S. Justice Department oversight of local election jurisdictions with a history of discrimination.
Republicans oppose federal laws on voting, arguing elections should be run on a state level. Democrats are pushing the bills to combat a slew of new state laws in GOP-controlled states that they claim hurt voting rights access, particularly among people of color, and would help nullify election results.
The two pieces of legislation were combined into a single bill. The House passed the single bill on Thursday and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
Because the bill will be categorized as a ‘message between the houses,’ Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer can skip the 60-vote threshold needed to start debate, allowing him to bypass Republicans’ vow to filibuster.
That will allow debate to begin on the legislation. However, it doesn’t guarantee the legislation will get passed. When debate on the bill concludes, Schumer will still need 60 votes to file cloture to end debate on the bill – that means he needs 10 GOP senators on board.
Republicans can use their filibuster power then to stop the legislation its tracks.
Here is what is in the legislation:
The Freedom to Vote Act is a slimmed down version of the House-passed For the People Act, a massive Democratic bill on on voting rights, campaign finance, and federal ethics.
After Senate Republicans filibustered the For the People Act in the Senate in June, a group of Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin, drafted the Freedom To Vote Act.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has called the act an attempt by Democratic lawmakers ‘to have the federal government take over how elections are conducted all over America.’
The legislation would require:
- Making Election Day as a federal holiday.
- Creating a national standard on elections: A set of standards for federal elections to ensure that voters have similar access to the ballot box across the country.
- Online, automatic, and same-day voter registration.
- A minimum of 15 days of early voting, including during at least two weekends.
- No-excuse mail voting with ample access to ballot drop boxes and online ballot tracking, in addition to streamlined election mail delivery by the US Postal Service.
- States would need to accept a wide range of forms of non-photographic identification in places where ID is required to vote.
- Counting eligible votes on provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
- Restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people convicted of felonies.
- Imposes stricter regulations on voter list maintenance that make it harder for states to remove eligible voters from the rolls.
- More protections and resources to serve voters with disabilities and overseas/military voters.
- Greater federal protections and oversight for voting in US territories.
- Improving voter registration resources and outreach, in addition to reauthorizing and strengthening the US Election Assistance Commission.
It would also:
- Prohibit partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to use certain criteria when drawing new congressional districts.
- Require states to use voter-verifiable paper ballots and conduct post-election audits.
- Give cybersecurity grants to states and directs the EAC to strengthen cybersecurity standards for voting equipment.
- Prohibit local election officials from being fired or removed without cause.
- Make interfering with voter registration a federal crime, and imposes stricter penalties against harassment, threats, and intimidation of election workers.
- Restate chain of custody requirements protecting the integrity of ballots and election materials, a provision meant to combat unofficial partisan ‘audits.’
Finally, on campaign finance reform:
- It includes provisions from the DISCLOSE Act, which targets so-called dark money in elections, and the HONEST Ads Act, which seeks to enhance transparency in campaign advertising.
- Creates a federal obligation for campaigns to report instances of foreign interference.
- Stricter enforcement of illegal coordination between single-candidate PACs and campaigns.
- Stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations by the Federal Election Commission.
The John Lewis bill would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights of 1965 that have been struck down or weakened by the Supreme Court, and change the way federal courts handle election cases.
Senate Republicans struck down the act in November. All GOP senators voted against it except Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. But her support still left Democrats short the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation.
McConnell called the bill a ‘trojan horse.’
‘This is a Trojan horse to carry a lot of other provisions that the Democrats had wanted to enact through the earlier voting rights bill that we’ve already considered and rejected,’ he said.
‘Clearly they want to change the subject away from how the American people feel about this administration, about the reckless tax and spending bill onto a nonexistent problem with this marching out of the John Lewis voting rights act,’ he said.
- It creates a new formula to restore the federal preclearance requirement mandating states with histories of discrimination to seek permission from the federal government before enacting new voting rules or redistricting plan. The Supreme Court struck down the old formula.
- Reverses the Supreme Court’s new ‘guideposts’ and standards from the Brnovich decision that make it harder for plaintiffs to prove racial discrimination under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
- Enshrines judicial precedent and legislative history to strengthen efforts to draw majority-minority districts under the parameters of the Voting Rights Act.
- Takes aim at the federal courts by requiring judges to explain their reasoning in emergency rulings they take up on the so-called shadow docket, and tries to limit judges’ from relying solely on the proximity to the election in deciding emergency cases on election rules, known as the Purcell principle.
- Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act, which provides greater federal protections for election workers against harassment and intimidation.
- Includes the Native American Voting Rights Act, a bill that strengthens voting rights and voter protections for voters in Indian Country.