Watch: President Joe Biden attacks Republicans for voter suppression efforts asking ‘Have you no shame?’
President Joe Biden on Tuesday called it a “national imperative” to pass sweeping voting rights legislation that has stalled in Congress, asking Republicans: “Have you no shame?”
However, he did not outline a path to overcome their opposition.
Numerous Republican-controlled states have passed new voting restrictions this year, a push encouraged by Mr Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump.
In a passionate speech in a city considered the nation’s birthplace, Mr Biden, without naming him, took aim at Mr Trump and his supporters for false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from the Republican former president through widespread voting fraud.
“So hear me clearly: there’s an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections,” Mr Biden told a cheering crowd in Philadelphia.
Republicans must “stand up, for God’s sake,” and oppose voting restrictions, he added.
The voting rights legislation faces an uphill battle in Congress, where Mr Biden’s fellow Democrats have been stymied by Senate Republicans who blocked it even from being debated. Mr Biden’s focus on the subject, even if the legislation fails, enables him to rally Democratic voters as his party works to maintain control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.
Mr Biden made a searing critique of what he called efforts to undermine voting rights, likening them to past laws that prevented Black people and women from voting in the United States.
“They want to make it so hard … that they hope people don’t vote at all. That’s what this is about,” Mr Biden said of those efforts.
“We must pass the ‘For the People Act.’ It’s a national imperative,” Mr Biden added, referring to the legislation.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, at least 17 states this year have enacted laws that restrict voting access, with more being considered.
Mr Biden’s party and civil rights groups have opposed these restrictions, which critics have said are aimed at Black, Hispanic and younger voters, who have helped elect Democrats. Many Republicans have justified new restrictions as a means to combat voter fraud, a phenomenon that election experts have said is rare in the United States.
Among those states bringing in restrictions is Texas, where a bill has been proposed that would outlaw 24-hour polling places, ban ballot drop boxes used to deposit mail ballots and empower partisan poll watchers.
Some of the party’s Texan lawmakers have been threatened with arrest after dramatically fleeing the state on private jets in a last ditch attempt to stall Republican efforts to pass the law.
The group of more than 50 legislators has vowed to stay away from the state for weeks in order to “kill the bill,” and have headed to Washington DC to put pressure on Mr Biden.
Because of the exodus, the Texas House would not have enough lawmakers in attendance to conduct business and could not, at least for now, vote on the bill.
Hours after they took off, Republican Governor Greg Abbott said he would simply keep calling special sessions through next year if necessary.
“As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” Mr Abbott said.
As they arrived in Washington on Monday evening, the lawmakers said they would not be swayed.
“We are determined to kill this bill,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, who said he and his colleagues were prepared to run out the clock on a special session that ends early next month.
Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday compared the lawmakers’ efforts to those of civil rights activists and suffragettes.
“I applaud what they are doing. They are part of the legacy of people who, for generations, sadly have had to fight for all Americans’ right to vote, some of whom have died in that pursuit,” she said in an interview with Reuters.
Ms Harris added that she encourages politicians in every state imposing voting restrictions to stand up for the right of all Americans to vote.