US President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference in Washington. File photo
President Joe Biden was set on Tuesday to defy Republicans and back a controversial Senate rule change to force through voting rights reforms that he says are crucial to saving US democracy.
Democrats' razor-thin majority in the US Senate has led to them making new calls to change the chamber's longstanding "filibuster" supermajority rule to allow them to pass a voting rights bill that Biden will urge action on on Tuesday.
Coming off a powerful speech last week to mark the January 6 anniversary of an attempt by Donald Trump's supporters to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Biden will argue in the Georgia state capital Atlanta that Congress needs to pass laws protecting voter rights.
"The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation," Biden will say, according to an excerpt of the speech distributed by the White House. "Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand."
Democrats accuse Republican state legislatures of enacting a spate of local laws restricting the voting rights of minorities and curtailing early voting and mail-in voting in an effort to suppress Democratic support.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a meeting. File photo
Biden plans to use a speech in Georgia to throw his support behind changing the Senate’s filibuster rules to allow action on voting rights legislation, calling it a moment to choose "democracy over autocracy.” But some civil rights activists, proclaiming themselves more interested in action than speeches, say they plan to stay away.
Biden on Tuesday will pay tribute to civil rights battles past — visiting Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once held forth from the pulpit, and placing a wreath at the crypt of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King - before turning to today's challenge.
With Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., setting up Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the deadline to either pass voting legislation or consider revising the rules, Biden is expected to evoke the memories of the US Capitol riot a year ago in more forcefully aligning himself with the effort.
Biden plans to tell his audience, "The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation.”
"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,” he'll say, according to prepared remarks. "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 United States Senate stand?”
The US Capitol
A White House official, previewing the speech on the condition of anonymity, said Biden would voice support for changing the Senate filibuster rules to ensure the right to vote is defended — a strategy Democrats have been looking to the president to embrace.
Supporters say it forces lawmakers to seek consensus, serves as important check on the party in power and ensures that major laws that affect American life don't change radically with every election.
Once a rarity, the filibuster is now routinely invoked. In recent months, Republicans have used it to block voting-rights bills and bring the United States perilously close to a crippling debt default.
Democrats could use their razor-thin Senate majority to eliminate the filibuster altogether. But centrist Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose this move, saying that it will shatter the few bipartisan bonds that remain and give Republicans free rein if they take a majority in the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has warned that his party would use other tactics to bring the chamber to a halt if the filibuster is eliminated.
Young people are frustrated that he hasn’t followed through on vows to combat climate change and student debt. Women are worried that his plans to expand family leave, child care and universal pre-K are stalled as abortion rights erode and schools struggle to stay open.
In a speech designed to breathe life into the fight to pass federal voting laws and convince skeptical Democrats of his commitment, Biden called many Republicans cowardly and committed to changing the US Senate "filibuster" to pass legislation.
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