President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pushed for congressional action, including changes to the filibuster, in order to pass voting rights legislation during their speeches at the Atlanta University Center Consortium on Tuesday afternoon.
“Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self. It gives me no satisfaction in saying that,” Biden said.
“But as an institutionalist, I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills. Debate them, vote, let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.”
Democratic members of the Senate are pushing to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which among other things, would make Election Day a public holiday, ensure that states have early voting and secure the availability of mail-in voting. GOP senators are expected to reject the bill. Democrats need 10 Republicans to join them to advance the legislation because of the 60-vote threshold required under Senate rules.
“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Biden said. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light overshadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”
“Over the past few years, we have seen so many anti-voter laws that there is a danger of becoming accustomed to these laws — a danger of adjusting to these laws as though they are normal,” Harris said. “A danger of being complacent, complicit. Anti-vote laws are not new in our nation, but we must not be deceived into thinking they are normal. We must not be deceived into thinking, a law that makes it more difficult for students to vote is normal. We must not be deceived into thinking a law that makes it illegal to have a voter with a disability vote by mail is normal.”
Biden described this moment in history as “one of the rare moments in a country’s history when time stops and the essential is immediately ripped away from the trivial.”
“Each one of the members of the Senate is going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote and where they stood after the vote. There’s no escape. Let’s get back to work,” he said.
“How do you want to be remembered,” Biden said, squaring off famous human rights champions against pro-segregation and anti-American activists: “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide. To defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set next Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a deadline to either pass voting legislation or consider revising the rules.