Biden defends invoking segregationists in voting rights speech against right-wing outrage

‘No one – no one – forgets who was on the side of King or Bull Connor’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 19 January 2022 23:24
Biden reacts angrily at question over voting rights comparison to notorious racists

In a furious speech from Georgia urging swift passage of voting rights legislation in Congress, President Joe Biden challenged senators to reflect on their vote as part of the nation’s legacy for civil rights.

“History has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights,” he said in his remarks on 11 January. “And it will be even less kind for those who side with election subversion. So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?”

He added: “At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the … on the side of [Martin Luther King Jr] or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

Asked about his remarks during his news conference on Wednesday 19 January, the president told a reporter to “go back and read what I said.”

“Tell me if you think I called anyone who voted on the side of the position taken by Bull Connor that they were Bull Connor,” Mr Biden said in his first solo press conference of the new year. “That is an interesting reading of English. I assume you got into journalism because you like to write.”

The president, who spoke for nearly two hours, said that “there are certain things that are so consequential you have to speak from your heart as well as your head,” adding that he was “speaking out forcefully for what I think to be at stake.”

He added: “By the way, no one – no one – forgets who was on the side of King or Bull Connor … The history books will note it. When I was making the case – ‘don’t think this is a freebie. You don’t get to vote this way and then somehow it goes away. This will stick with you through your career and after you’re gone.’”

Republicans and right-wing pundits immediately pounced on his speech in Atlanta to accuse him of comparing conservative Americans and elected officials to racists and segregationists, as GOP legislators roundly reject efforts to expand and protect voting rights while pushing dozens of bills in nearly every state to restrict them.

As the president spoke on Wednesday, Democratic senators held a series of speeches in support of federal legislation to create national standards for early and mail-in voting, voter ID laws and automatic voter registration and combat state legislative attempts to inject partisan oversight of election administration.

The legislation also would renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Republicans nearly universally opposed last year for the first time since its passage, after the US Supreme Court tossed out critical elements of the landmark civil rights law.

Asked whether he believes upcoming elections will be fairly run if such legislation fails to pass, the president said “it all depends on whether or not we’re able to make a case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election.”

“No matter how hard they make it for minorities to vote, I think you’ll see them willing to stand in line and defy the attempt to keep them from being able to vote,” he said. “I think you’re going to see that people will try to keep from being able to show up, showing up and making the sacrifice … in order to change the law back to what it should be.”

He said it is “going to be difficult” but “we’ve not run out of options yet and we’ll see how this goes.”

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