In the most fiery speech he’s delivered as president, Joe Biden on Tuesday likened Republican-led efforts to restrict the right to vote to a parade of American evils going back to slavery and called this moment in “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.”
During his address on Tuesday from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, he condemned the GOP’s lies about the 2020 election, assailed crackdowns on voting in more than a dozen states, and urged Congress to pass federal voting-rights legislation — but did not mention the filibuster.
Biden began the speech by calling out his predecessor, Donald Trump, for lying about voter fraud in the 2020 election, calling it “the most scrutinized election ever in history.”
“The Big Lie is just that— a big lie,” Biden said. “In America, if you lose, you accept the results. You follow the Constitution. You try again. You don’t call facts fake and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you’re unhappy. That’s not statesmanship. That’s selfishness.”
While such actions were “un-American” and “undemocratic,” Biden said, they were not unprecedented in this country. “From denying enslaved people full citizenship until the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments after the Civil War. To denying women the right to vote until the 19th amendment 100 years ago. To poll taxes and literacy tests and Ku Klux Klan campaigns of violence and terror that lasted into the ’50s and ’60s. To the Supreme Court decision in 2013 and then again just two weeks ago, a decision that weakened the landmark Voting Rights Act. To the willful election attacks in 2020 and then to a whole other level of threat — the violence and the deadly insurrection on the Capitol on January 6th.”
Biden pivoted to the GOP’s efforts in more than a dozen states to make it harder to vote, likening measures to the poll tax used to prevent Black people from casting ballots in the 20th century. “The 21st-century Jim Crow assault is real. It’s unrelenting and we’re going to challenge it vigorously,” Biden said.
To combat Republican efforts, Biden said it is a “national imperative” to pass the For The People Act, a suite of election-related measures, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The president did not mention reforming or repealing the filibuster, which renders either bill dead on arrival in the Senate where the Republican majority has vowed to prevent the legislation from even receiving a vote.
“We’ll be asking my Republican friends in Congress and states and cities and counties to stand up, for God’s sake, and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election and the sacred right to vote. Have you no shame?” he continued to applause.
As his speech ended, Biden invoked the late congressman.
“Just remember, our late friend John Lewis said, ‘Freedom is not a state. It’s an act.’ And we must act and we will act,” Biden said, his voice rising as the room filled with applause. “For our cause is just, our vision is clear and our hearts are full. For We The People, for our democracy, for America itself. We must act.”