President Joe Biden, in a speech Tuesday in Atlanta, will directly challenge the “institution of the United States Senate” to support voting rights by backing two major pieces of legislation and the carving out of an exception to the Senate’s 60-vote requirement.
Coming a week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Biden’s speech at the Atlanta University Center Consortium on Tuesday afternoon will serve as a follow-up to a speech he delivered last week on the first anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot. He will argue that the two pieces of legislation ― the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act ― are critical to ensure that the turmoil of Jan. 6, 2021, leads to a revival of American democracy rather than its decline.
“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Biden will say, according to prepared remarks distributed by the White House. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is: Where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?”
Biden, who served as a senator from 1973 to 2009, will also argue that abuse of the filibuster ― the arcane rule that requires 60 senators’ votes for most legislation to pass – has harmed the Senate as an institution and that carving out an exception for voting rights is the best way to protect the reputation and functionality of Congress’s upper chamber.
The Senate is set to vote on both pieces of voting rights legislation this week. While all 50 Democrats are expected to support the legislation, Republicans are expected to remain unified in opposition and block consideration ― as they have the previous three times Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has attempted to call up the Freedom to Vote Act.
That unified GOP opposition will almost certainly lead to a vote on whether to significantly weaken the filibuster. But it appears unlikely Democrats will be able to corral the 50 votes necessary for a rule change. Sens. Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and other moderates are reluctant to change the body’s rules.
White House aides indicated Biden’s speech will point to Georgia as a reason why voting rights legislation is necessary, highlighting how the GOP-controlled state legislature passed laws making it harder to vote after Democrats won the presidential race and two Senate seats there in 2020.
The Freedom to Vote Act is a compromise version of the Democratic Party’s sweeping voting rights legislation, and it would override many of the restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans since the 2020 election and mandate early voting and same-day voter registration. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore sections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that conservatives on the Supreme Court voted to gut in 2013.
Republicans, up to and including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, had long supported extensions to the Voting Rights Act but ceased doing so after the Supreme Court ruling.