Biden called on the Senate to advance two pieces of federal voting rights legislation: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. He described both measures as remedies to efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to pass bills making it more difficult for certain groups to vote.
“I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet,” Biden said, pounding the lectern for emphasis.
Biden argued the two bills would directly address some state-level bills that were passed last year to make mail-in voting tougher and give more autonomy to elected officials over counting ballots, or what he deemed “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to take up election legislation in the coming days. If Republicans block it, which is expected, Schumer has said he will bring up a rules change vote by Monday, Jan. 17.
But a handful of moderate Democrats, most notably Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), have been vocal opponents to gutting the filibuster, warning it could backfire if Republicans retake the majority.
“We need some good rules changes to make the place work better. But getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it work better,” Manchin told reporters hours before Biden’s speech.
The president did not specifically name Manchin, Sinema, or any other member of the Senate. But he argued history would harshly judge any lawmaker who stood in the way of securing the right to vote at a time when democracy in the U.S. was facing grave threats.
“This is one of those defining moments in American history,” Biden said. “Each one of the members of the Seante 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.”