By Steve Holland
Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden, under pressure from civil rights leaders, travels to Philadelphia on Tuesday to issue a strong appeal for sweeping voting rights legislation that is stalled in Congress due largely to Republican opposition.
About a dozen Republican-controlled states have approved laws that either restrict voting or change election rules in response to Republican then-President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that voter fraud prevented him from winning the 2020 presidential election.
While Biden’s voting rights legislation faces an uphill battle in Congress, his focus on it allows him to rally support among Democratic voters as Democrats work to hold on to control of Congress in the 2022 midterm congressional elections.
Last month, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic-backed national election reform bill that would have expanded opportunities to vote before Election Day, made certain campaign contributions more transparent and reformed the process for the drawing of congressional districts. Republicans said it violated states’ authority to set their own election laws.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that in his Philadelphia speech, Biden will call efforts to strip the right to vote from some Americans “authoritarian and anti-American” and “the worst challenge to our democracy since the Civil War.”
He will make a “moral case for why denying the right to vote is a form of suppression and a form of silencing,” and discuss steps the administration plans to take to shore up voting rights, she told reporters.
The city chosen for Biden’s speech at the National Constitution Center holds potent symbolism for many Americans. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed at Independence Hall, just steps away from the center.
Biden met last week with civil rights leaders who pushed him to keep fighting on the voting issue despite Republican resistance. The president’s top priority in recent weeks has been working on getting congressional approval of a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.
Biden’s speech in Philadelphia will address the ongoing “onslaught of voter suppression laws based on a dangerous and discredited conspiracy theory that culminated in an assault (on Jan. 6) on our Capitol,” Psaki said.
Biden’s fellow Democrats have struggled along with civil rights groups to fight the spate of voting restrictions that critics say are aimed at Black, Hispanic and younger voters, who have helped elect Democrats.
In Texas on Monday, dozens of Democratic lawmakers left that state as part of an orchestrated move to derail their Republican colleagues’ efforts to pass voting restriction legislation and other conservative measures in a special legislative session.
Republican state legislators say their new voting laws are designed to enhance election security, citing Trump’s claims that he lost due to widespread fraud. Those claims were rejected by multiple courts, state election authorities and Trump’s own administration.
Republican governors in Georgia, Arizona, Florida and Iowa signed new voting restrictions into law this year.
Pennsylvania’s state legislature approved a Republican-backed bill requiring voter identification, but the Democratic governor vetoed it on June 30.
In Michigan, Republican lawmakers also approved legislation mandating new voting limits, but that state’s Democratic governor is expected to veto it.