President Biden on Tuesday tore into Republican-led state legislatures for voting laws he called a “raw and sustained election subversion,” toughening his rhetoric after Democrats and civil rights activists demanded that he step up to the fight over voting rights.
The speech was one of the most aggressive of Mr. Biden’s young presidency. He labeled the efforts in red states to limit absentee voting and strengthen voter ID requirements as the “most dangerous threat to voting in our history.”
“Hear me clearly: There is an unfolding assault taking place in America today. An attempt to suppress and subvert the right to America,” he said. “An assault on Democracy. An assault on liberty. An assault on who we are as Americans.”
Speaking in front of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden compared the Republican-backed measures to literacy tests and terrorism campaigns by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
“The 21st-century Jim Crow assault is real,” said Mr. Biden. “It’s unrelenting. We are going to challenge it vigorously.”
Election laws have become partisan flashpoints as the 2022 midterms approach. Republican-run states are adopting new laws, and Democrats in Washington are pushing a massive rewrite of rules for all states.
At least 17 states have enacted new voting laws since the November elections. Democrats have criticized nearly all of them for either making it harder to vote or suppressing turnout of Black and Hispanic voters.
A total of 37 states have laws requiring voters to show some form of identification. Those laws have been top targets for Democrats. Provisions in their election overhaul bill would give voters a workaround to showing photo ID.
Studies on whether voter ID requirements suppress minority votes have reached conflicting conclusions.
Republicans accused Mr. Biden of mischaracterizing their efforts to improve election security by tightening laws for mail-in ballots and voter ID.
“Joe Biden and Democrats have an election power grab playbook: lies and theatrics,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez. “After Democrats failed to pass their federal takeover of our elections, Biden is continuing their dishonest attacks on common-sense election integrity efforts.”
Mr. Biden linked the new array of state voting measures to former President Donald Trump’s unproven claims that widespread voter fraud upended the 2020 presidential election.
The president attacked Mr. Trump and his refusal to accept the results of the election.
“In America, if you lose, you accept the results,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Biden called the 2020 election “the most scrutinized election in American history.”
He noted that more than 80 judges, including some appointed by Mr. Trump, rejected lawsuits claiming voter fraud and accused Republicans of being afraid of letting Americans decide elections.
Mr. Biden accused Republicans of being afraid of letting Americans decide elections. He noted that more than 80 judges, including some appointed by Mr. Trump, rejected his claims.
“No other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and high standards,” he said. “The big lie is just that. A big lie.”
Hours before Mr. Biden’s speech, Mr. Trump issued a statement calling for Pennsylvania to audit the 2020 results. Mr. Biden won his birth state by roughly 80,000 votes.
The no-holds-barred assault on Republican voting laws epitomizes the heat Mr. Biden is feeling to take a more combative stance on voting rights.
Some of the president’s traditional allies have bitterly complained that he is not making a stronger case against the Republican voting changes. They have also expressed exasperation over what they see as inaction for stronger federal legislation to counter the Republican state laws.
Mr. Biden defended his efforts on behalf of voting access laws, including his support of the For the People Act, a Democratic proposal that would give the federal government greater control over state elections. He again called for its passage in Tuesday’s speech.
But he has bucked activists’ calls to push for a change in filibuster rules. By curtailing or eliminating the filibuster, Democrats could pass two federal voting access laws with a simple majority vote.
Democrats have become increasingly concerned about what they see as an increase in efforts to restrict voting. They are also worried about recent court rulings that have made it harder to mount legal challenges to those efforts.
Mr. Biden used the speech to defend his administration’s stance on voting rights. The Justice Department sued Georgia this year over its restrictions.
Mr. Biden gave the speech after a dramatic escalation in the fight over voting rights.
On Monday, at least 50 state Democratic lawmakers fled Texas to deny Republicans the quorum needed to pass new voting restrictions. The lawmakers hopped chartered planes to Washington, where they intended to urge lawmakers to pass federal legislation to override the new state laws.
Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet with the Texas lawmakers this week, the White House said. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, met with them Tuesday afternoon.
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