WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden declared that preserving voting rights is “a test of our time” Tuesday as Texas Democrats took dramatic action to stymie their state’s latest effort in a nationwide Republican push to tighten ballot restrictions.
“The 21st century Jim Crow assault is real, it’s unrelenting. We are going to challenge it vigorously,” Biden said.
He also called out legislators pushing for restricting voting access by asking, “Have you no shame?”
Biden has declared that protecting voting rights was the central cause of his presidency, but the White House has taken sharp criticism from allies for not doing more while contending with political headwinds and stubborn Senate math that have greatly restricted its ability to act.
Speaking at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Biden called the efforts to curtail voting accessibility “un-American” and “un-democratic” and launched a broadside against his predecessor, Donald Trump, who baselessly alleged misconduct in the 2020 election after his defeat.
“Peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundation of our country,” Biden said.
Biden called passage of congressional proposals to override the new state voting restrictions and to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act that were curbed in recent years by the Supreme Court “a national imperative.”
“We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That’s not hyperbole, since the Civil War. The Confederates, back then, never breached the Capitol as insurrectionists did on January the 6th,” Biden said.
Several states have enacted voting restrictions, and others are debating them, as Republicans have seized on former President Donald Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election as a pretense for curtailing ballot access. None of Trump’s claims have been proven.
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.
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.
Biden’s speech Tuesday is intended as the opening salvo of a public pressure campaign, White House aides said, even as legislative options to block voting restrictions face significant obstacles.
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’s long-awaited speech came just hours after a group of Democratic Texas lawmakers arrived in the nation’s capital after fleeing their state to try to kill a Republican bill making it harder to vote in Texas. The legislators said they were ready to remain in Washington for weeks, forcing a dramatic new showdown over voting rights in America.
Private planes carried a large group of Democrats from Austin to Washington, the lawmakers skipping town just days before the Texas House had been expected to give early approval to sweeping new voting restrictions in a special legislative session. They hoped to deprive the Legislature of a quorum — the minimum number of representatives who have to be present for the body to operate.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.