CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Facing increasing demands from his progressive base, President Joe Biden is now going all out, pressuring Congress to move on voting rights, calling this a turning point for the nation.
“I’m tired of being quiet!” he said, emphatically pounding the podium. “I will not yield. I will not flinch,” in the effort to protect democracy.
Biden used a speech in Georgia Tuesday to throw his support, for the first time, behind changing the Senate’s filibuster rules to allow action on voting rights legislation, declaring that changing the rules would be to protect the “heart and soul of our democracy.”
“We call on Congress to get done what history will judge,” Biden said. “Pass the Freedom to Vote Act. Pass it now, so that here in Georgia, there’s full access to voting by mail, there are enough dropboxes, you can bring food & water to people waiting in line.”
Biden told the audience, “The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation.”
“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light overshadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch,” Biden said. “I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and, yes, domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”
“Hear me plainly,” Biden said. “The battle for the soul of America is not over.”
The LA Times reported Biden’s move underscores the pressure the president is facing from his base to do something about Republican-backed state laws that restrict access to the polls before the November midterm election.
Some voting rights advocates planned to boycott the speech and instead spend the day working. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, known for her untiring voting rights work, also was skipping the event.
So far, Democrats have been unable to agree among themselves over potential changes to the Senate filibuster rules to allow action on voting rights, despite months of private negotiations. The Hill reports to change the rules, Democrats need total unity from all 50 of their members, something they don’t yet have. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) both support a supermajority requirement for legislation, while others, including Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), haven’t yet taken a position.
Many Democrats say the rule change would apply only to issues grounded in constitutional rights such as voting, but Republicans and others say it would inevitably be extended to other legislation, diminishing the overall power of the filibuster, according to the New York Times.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejected some activists’ complaints that Biden hasn’t been a strong enough advocate.
“I think we would dispute the notion that the president hasn’t been active or vocal. He’s given a range of speeches, he’s advocated for voting rights to pass,” she said. “We understand the frustration by many advocates that this is not passed into law, yet. He would love to have signed this into law himself.”
But laws have already passed in at least 19 states that make it more difficult to vote. Voting rights groups view the changes as a subtler form of the ballot restrictions like literacy tests and poll taxes once used to disenfranchise Black voters, now a key Democratic constituency.
And Republicans who have fallen in line behind Trump’s election misinformation are separately promoting efforts to influence future elections by installing sympathetic leaders in local election posts and backing for elective office some of those who participated in the violent Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol a year ago.
Georgia is at the center of it all, one of the key battleground states in the 2020 elections. As the votes were being recounted, Trump told a top state election official he wanted the official to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss. The state’s votes nonetheless went to Biden, and both of its Senate seats went to Democrats as well.
Then last year, the Republican governor signed a sweeping rewrite of election rules that, among other things, gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. That has led to concerns that the Republican-controlled state board could exert more influence over the administration of elections, including the certification of county results.
This story is developing. Refresh for updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.