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Biden makes push for voting bills and says there is "no option" but to kill the filibuster

Biden supports changing Senate rules to pass voting bills 02:18

Washington — President Biden on Tuesday announced his support for getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate to pass legislation that will overhaul the nation's voting laws and counter a raft of new changes pushed by Republicans at the state level

It's a moment progressives have been waiting for, even though the president has no technical power to change Senate rules. Mr. Biden urged lawmakers pass two laws: The Freedom to Vote Act, which would establish national election standards, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reinstate a core provision of the Voting Rights Act — gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013 — that required states with a history of racial discrimination to seek Justice Department approval before changing their election rules.

Biden makes push for voting bills and says there is "no option" but to kill the filibuster 38:31

"Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world's greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self," Mr. Biden said, speaking in Atlanta on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University. "It gives me no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate. But as an institutionalist, I believe the threat to democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote, let the majority prevail," Mr. Biden said. "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."

Now is the time for action, he said, and to support the legacy of the late John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

"I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired of being quiet!" the president exclaimed, slapping his hand on the lectern. 

U.S. President Biden and Vice President Harris give speeches at Atlanta University Center Consortium
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on voting rights during a speech on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 11, 2022. JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

Republicans in some states are trying to put up obstacles to vote because "to them, too many people voting in a democracy is a problem," he claimed. 

"The right to have that vote and to have that vote counted is democracy's threshold liberty," he said. "Without it, nothing is possible. But with it, anything is possible. But while the denial of fair and free elections is undemocratic, it is not unprecedented."

Vice President Kamala Harris urged Americans not to normalize making it more difficult to vote. 

"Over the past few years, we have seen so many anti-voter laws that there is a danger of becoming accustomed to these laws," Harris said in her remarks. "A danger of adjusting to these laws as though they are normal. A danger of being complacent. Complicit. Anti-voter laws are not new in our nation, but we must not be deceived into thinking they are normal."

Asked by reporters in Georgia ahead of his speech if he has the votes, the president responded, "Keep the faith." 

Traveling with Mr. Biden in Georgia were Senator Raphael Warnock and members of the state's congressional delegation, as well as former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Absent from the president's speech, though, was Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, which Mr. Biden said before departing the White House is because of a scheduling mix-up.

The president told reporters the two are on the "same page," and Abrams took to Twitter on Monday to applaud Mr. Biden for his visit and speech, thanking him for "for refusing to relent until the work is finished."

The speech from the president is viewed by the White House as an extension of his condemnations of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol during remarks marking its one-year anniversary. The president used his fiery speech last week to pledge he would "allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of our democracy."

Mr. Biden's visit and address in Atlanta is also aimed at the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will soon bring the voting rights legislation to the floor despite expected unanimous opposition by Senate Republicans.

If Republicans filibuster the bills as expected, denying Democrats the 60 votes they need to advance legislation in the 50-50 Senate, Schumer has pledged to bring forward changes to the Senate rules that would lower the threshold for the measures to advance in the upper chamber with a simple majority.

"If Republicans refuse to join us in a bipartisan spirit — if they continue to hijack the rules of the Senate to turn this chamber into a deep freezer — we are going to consider the appropriate steps necessary to restore the Senate, so we can pass these proposals and send them to the president's desk," Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday.

During a press conference Tuesday, the New York Democrat told reporters he is"exploring a variety of different changes" to Senate rules.

But Schumer still faces an uphill battle to changing Senate rules that would make it easier for voting rights legislation to clear. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both moderate Democrats, generally oppose changing the chamber's rules.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, accused Schumer of mounting "an attempt to attack the core identity of the Senate."

McConnell also accused Democratic leaders of "trying to use a big lie to bully and berate their own members into breaking their word, breaking the rules, and breaking the Senate." 

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