President Joe Biden calls the passage of voting rights bills a “national imperative” amid his push against legislative suppression. Delaney Tarr reports on Biden’s stance in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

President Joe Biden delivered passionate remarks on voting rights today at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the wake of the failed For the People Act, Biden remains optimistic about the fight for voting rights

Voting rights have been a key component of Biden’s campaign amid nationwide voter suppression. Despite that suppression, the 2020 Presidential election saw record voter turnout amid a global pandemic. More than 150 million Americans voted at the polls, through the mail, and at the ballot box. 

Since his inauguration, Biden has pushed the For the People Act, an expansive voting rights bill. 

“That bill would help end voter suppression in the states, get dark money out of politics, give voice to the people at the grassroots level, create fairer district maps and end partisan gerrymandering,” said Biden.

The Act failed in the Senate, 10 votes short of the filibuster requirement and strongly opposed by Republicans. Despite the roadblock, Biden did not touch on his support or opposition to the filibuster. 

Biden instead targeted the Republican opposition in his speech today, calling out their lack of discussion on the bill and urging Congress to act. 

He called it a “national imperative” to pass the legislation, as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore and expand voter protections. 

“As soon as Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act I will sign it and let the whole world see it,” said Biden.

The President pivoted away from the current bills to stress that legislation is not “the only measure of our obligation to defend democracy.” He cited current efforts from the Department of Justice, which will use its authorities to challenge the onslaught of state laws undermining voting rights. 

According to Biden, in this year alone 17 states have enacted 28 new laws to make it harder for Americans to vote. There are nearly 400 additional bills that Republican members of the state legislatures are trying to pass, which Biden called a “21st century Jim Crow assault.”

The Department of Justice will act through the Voting Rights Division that is doubling in size and staff. External civil rights groups have also announced efforts to stay vigilant against voter suppression.

Biden targeted Texas Republican legislatures who aim to allow partisan poll watchers, a move Biden said would intimidate voters and imperil impartial poll workers. 

“It’s no longer about who gets to vote, or making it easier for eligible voters to vote,” said Biden, “it’s about who gets to count your vote.”

Biden called partisan poll workers a form of election subversion, the “most dangerous threat to voting”. He said polarized state legislatures and actors who work for political parties want the ability to ignore the will of the people and reject the final count. 

With these concerns, Biden looks forward to 2022. He said it will be another test, and stressed efforts to educate voters, register people to vote, and actually get people to the polls. 

Biden called voter suppression the most “significant test of Democracy” since the Civil war, pointing to the January 6th insurrection on the White House as a low point. 

Yet Biden said the people who voted for democracy in 2020 have prevailed and continued to push for a national effort. 

“We will not give in, we will overcome,” said Biden.  “We will do it together, guaranteeing the right to vote, ensuring every vote is counted has always been the most patriotic thing we can do.” 

As he closed his remarks, Biden referenced a quote from John Lewis, the namesake of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and a recently deceased prominent civil rights activist. Lewis was an eventual Representative for the state of Georgia but began his career fighting for the rights of Black Americans. 

“Our late friend John Lewis said, Freedom is not a state. It’s an act,” said Biden, “and we must act, we will act for our causes just.” 

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