WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned that the country was facing a choice between “democracy or autocracy” following the passage of restrictive voting laws by nearly two dozen states and took direct aim at former President Donald Trump‘s role in spreading misinformation about the 2020 election.
“In America, if you lose, you accept the results,” Biden said in a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. “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. That’s not democracy; it’s the denial of the right to vote.”
“Peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundation of our country,” he continued.
Biden has faced increasing pressure from Democrats and voting rights advocates to take more aggressive action on the issue after a wave of restrictive voting rights laws, fueled in part by Trump’s false claims about the results of the 2020 election, were passed by many Republican-controlled states.
“The big lie is just that — a big lie,” he said Tuesday, calling on his “Republican friends” in states and Congress to stand up and help prevent the effort to undermine elections and the “sacred right to vote.”
“Have you no shame?” he asked.
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Calls for the White House to do more intensified after Senate Republicans blocked voting rights legislation last month, laying bare the limited options Democrats in Congress have without removing the filibuster, which would allow them to use their narrow majority to pass a voting rights bill.
Biden and other Senate Democrats have been reluctant to consider removing the filibuster. The White House has maintained that the president has not given up hope that some bipartisan legislative solution can be reached.
Although Biden warned Tuesday that the nation was “facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” he offered very little by way of new steps that his administration would take to address the restrictive state laws.
Biden repeated his call on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act; pledged that the Department of Justice would continue to challenge restrictive laws in court, as it recently did with a Georgia voting law; and said he and Vice President Kamala Harris, whom the White House tasked to work on voting rights, would continue to build up public awareness about the threat to voting rights.
“The most important thing we have to do: We have to forge a coalition of Americans of every background and political party,” Biden said, adding that federal legislation was not the only tool available. “I don’t think that most people think that this is about who gets to count what vote counts. Literally.”
Advocates and some lawmakers around the country have said federal legislation is the only way to shore up voting rights and have warned that Congress is running out of time to act, especially with midterm elections a little more than a year away.
Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia after Biden’s speech, the Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, said he believed that altering the filibuster was the only way to pass substantial legislation on the issue. Sharpton said he spoke with the president following the speech but that Biden was “noncommittal” on the filibuster.
When asked by reporters why he did not mention the word in his speech, Biden said, “I’m not filibustering now.”
Biden’s speech came as more than 50 Texas Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., on Monday in a last-ditch effort to block a restrictive new voting law from being passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. The unusual move, which puts the Democrats at risk of arrest, denies the Texas Legislature the required quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers to be present to conduct state business.
The Texas lawmakers on Tuesday called for congressional Democrats to carve out an exception to the filibuster rules but only for for voting rights legislation.
Biden has said on a number of occasions that he plans to make voting rights a central focus of his agenda and promised earlier this month to go “on the road on this issue.” Aside from Tuesday’s speech, it remained unclear what that push may look like.
“They want to make it so hard and inconvenient that people don’t vote at all,” Biden said. “The 21st century Jim Crow assault is real, it’s unrelenting and we’re going to challenge it vigorously.”
Sally Bronston contributed.