Pounding his fist for emphasis, President Biden challenged senators on Tuesday to “stand against voter suppression," urging them to change Senate rules in order to pass voting rights legislation that Republicans are blocking from debate and votes. Biden told a crowd in Atlanta that he'd been having quiet conversations with senators for months over the two bills—a lack of progress that has brought his criticism from activists in his own party, the AP reports. "I’m tired of being quiet!" he shouted. "I will not yield. I will not flinch." Biden on Tuesday also paid tribute to civil rights battles past—visiting Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once held forth from the pulpit. He stood quietly as Martin Luther King III placed a wreath outside at the crypt of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
With Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer setting next Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a deadline to either pass voting legislation or consider revising the rules around the chamber’s filibuster blocking device, Biden is expected to evoke the memories of the Capitol riot in more forcefully aligning himself with the voting rights effort. Biden told his audience Tuesday: "The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand."
Biden promised: "I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign, yes and domestic! And so the question is where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?"Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, known for her untiring voting rights work, was not at the event. Aides said Abrams had a conflict but didn’t explain further, though she tweeted support for the president.
Current rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation—a threshold that Senate Democrats can’t meet alone because they only have a 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. Republicans unanimously oppose the voting rights measures. Not all Democrats are on board with changing the filibuster rules. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin threw cold water on the idea Tuesday, saying he believes any changes should be made with substantial Republican buy-in. And even if Democrats clear the obstacles to passage of the voting rights laws, it could be too late to counter widespread voting restrictions passed in 19 states following former Donald Trump’s 2020 loss and false claims that the election was stolen through voter fraud. (Read more President Biden stories.)