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Biden To Invoke Civil War, Jim Crow Era In Speech Slamming GOP Voting Bills

Talking Points Memo logo Talking Points Memo 7/13/2021 Matt Shuham
Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Provided by Talking Points Memo

President Joe Biden on Tuesday will describe state-level Republican voting restrictions as the greatest threat to Democracy since the Civil War, invoking the Ku Klux Klan and the Jan. 6 Capitol attack during a speech on voting rights, a White House official said.

Biden is scheduled to deliver a speech on voting rights Tuesday afternoon from Philadelphia, focused in part on pushing Congress to counter the wave of state-level restrictions by passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. With all 50 Senate Republicans opposed to the bills and two key Democrats unwilling to budge on the Senate’s filibuster rules, the legislation is currently at a standstill.

In a preview of Biden’s remarks shared with TPM, a White House official said the President would also place current state-level Republican efforts to restrict and politicize voting in the context of the past 160 years.

“He will also blast the denial of the right to vote as grounded in autocracy, undemocratic, un-American, and unpatriotic,” the White House official said, referring to Biden’s speech. 

“And he will note that while voter suppression that these 21st Century Jim Crow laws represent is sadly not unprecedented in American history — looking back to the KKK campaigns of terror, poll taxes, literacy tests, and the disenfranchisement of women and enslaved people — these new insidious moves to empower partisans over independent election authorities in terms of who counts the votes are new and extremely dangerous.”

Several new voting laws that have been passed or are currently being considered by GOP-controlled legislatures — such as those in Georgia and Texas — give additional authority to partisan poll watchers or legislators, taking power away from election officials.

Biden will say that those efforts to empower partisans over election authorities “are the most significant threat today to the integrity of our elections, and to the security of the right to vote for people of all races and backgrounds,” the White House official said. 

“The President will repeat that these are the most egregious attempts to harm the integrity of our democracy since the Civil War — while observing that the Confederates never breached the Capitol — but that if we show the will to save and strengthen our democracy, in the best traditions of the country, this can be turned back,” the official added. 

Biden’s speech Tuesday comes as Democrats and voting rights activists around the country are pressing the Biden administration — and, just as important, Democrats in Congress — to intervene in the face of Republican voting restrictions. 

Texas House Democrats turned up the heat in person Monday, leaving their state for a trip to Washington, with two goals: First, to deny the state’s House of Representatives the quorum necessary to pass the voting restrictions in question, and second, to lobby Washington for federal voting rights protections. 

At a press conference Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Marc Vasey (D-TX) spoke alongside several state lawmakers from Texas and boosted House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s (D-SC) call for Biden to endorse a “carve out” to the filibuster that would allow Democrats’ voting rights bills an opportunity to reach Biden’s desk. 

And Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) recalled a towering Texan who signed crucial civil rights legislation into law — President Lyndon Johnson. The Voting Rights Act, which Johnson made law in 1965, was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, and was severely limited in scope again two weeks ago

“What we really need today is a Lyndon Johnson moment,” Doggett said. “We need the power of the presidency.” 

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