President Joe Biden is known for greeting even strangers as friends and for an incredible ability to empathize with the pain of others. He is not a fiery speaker, unlike his predecessor, which is why Biden’s words and attitude in two recent speeches deliver a powerful punch.
One came last week on the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. The second took place Tuesday in Georgia where Biden exhorted Congress to pass voting rights laws. Let’s hope he did not leave the fiery Biden for too late.
In his speech about the insurrection, Biden made it clear the United States must act to save democracy. He forcefully attacked the actions of his predecessor, laying the actions of the mob trying to stop certification of the presidential election at Donald Trump’s feet.
On Jan. 6, 2021, the U.S. hit an uncomfortable milestone, Biden said: “For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.”
Biden made clear the intent of the mob: “This wasn’t a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection. They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people. They were looking to deny the will of the people.”
And the mob still could deny the will of the people, not through violent protest but by passing laws restricting voting rights.
Here’s what Republicans did after the Jan. 6 insurrection, he said: “Instead of looking at the election results from 2020 and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes, the former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections.”
Congress — and it must happen at the federal level — can prevent such a mockery of the American system of voting. For that to happen, however, members of the Senate must be willing to change the rules of their body and pass essential voting rights legislation by a simple majority.
That was the focus of Biden’s second consequential speech in a week. For months, he said, he has been talking to U.S. senators about the need to pass federal legislation to protect voting rights. Right now, without Republican support, the legislation cannot pass the Senate.
The rules require 60 votes to move legislation along, which won’t happen in an evenly divided Senate — it is 50-50 Republican/Democrat, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris available to break ties. Therefore, the rules must change.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as require areas with systemic histories of passing discriminatory voting laws to receive pre-clearance from the Justice Department before passing new voting laws. The Freedom to Vote Act would prevent gerrymandering, offer protection for poll workers, establish a national voting day and require states to offer at least two weeks of early voting.
“I will not flinch,” Biden told the crowd in Atlanta, as he pounded the podium to underscore the importance of ensuring all citizens have equal access to the vote.
Should Congress move to pass these laws, citizens would not have to worry whether their state is intent on denying them a voice. It’s long been a mystery why Biden and the Democrats did not make voting rights a higher priority — without free and fair elections, democracy in the United States is at risk.
We are proud of the tradition of the people choosing elected representatives, who then pass laws to govern the nation. But elections are hardly worthwhile if they are designed to block the votes of large groups of people.
The “big lie” of 2020 is that the election was rigged and that Trump won. That’s what the mob at the Capitol believed. Without laws that protect the right to vote across the country, the erosion of democracy could happen at the ballot box instead of insurrection. A fiery Biden made the case for action. Now, it’s up to Congress, specifically the Senate. Protecting the United States and its tradition of representative democracy is what matters right now. Fiery Biden has it right: Democracy is at stake.