Biden says US democracy threatened by Republican ‘subversion’

President says protecting voting rights is a ‘historic’ test for the country in wake of false accusations surrounding 2020 vote

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

PHILIDELPHIA (AFP) — US President Joe Biden said Tuesday that protecting voting rights from what he called Republican “election subversion” poses a historic “test” for the United States in the wake of the 2020 election.

“It’s up to all of us to protect that right. It’s a test of our time,” he said in a speech in Philadelphia, birthplace of the US Constitution.

Referring to attempts led by Donald Trump to overturn the result of the presidential election, as well as pile on new voting rules in the name of security, Biden said “this is election subversion.”

“It’s the most the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history,” he said in a fiery speech.

Biden noted that in response to Republican allegations of fraud in 2020, more than 80 courts — right up to the Supreme Court — held hearings and in every case found nothing significantly wrong.

The 2020 presidential and congressional election saw the highest turnout in history, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and was subsequently “the most scrutinized election ever in American history,” he said.

Without naming Trump, he made clear what he thought of the Republican’s unprecedented campaign to overturn the results.

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“The big lie’s just that: a big lie,” he said. “In America if you lose you accept the results, you follow the constitution. You try again. You don’t call facts ‘fake’ and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you’re unhappy.”

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The speech in the city where the founding document of the US democratic system was drawn up and signed in 1787 is Biden’s highest profile foray into a controversy that both Republicans and Democrats describe in dire terms.

According to the White House and congressional Democrats, Republicans are using state legislatures to restrict voting rights across the country under the guise of increasing election security.

Republicans, egged on by Trump, insist tougher voting rules are needed to crack down on voter fraud.

This means things like cutting back on mail-in voting, shortening hours at polls and imposing heavy fines against poll workers who make mistakes.

While Republicans say such measures would clean up US elections, Democrats point to an already extremely low incidence of fraud and say the measures target Black and other non-white voters, who tend to vote Democratic.

“They want to make it so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don’t vote at all,” Biden charged.

It’s not clear, however, what difference he can make.

In his speech, he announced a doubling of staff for the Justice Department’s voting rights division.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, center left, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, joined at left by Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, welcome Democratic members of the Texas legislature at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. The lawmakers left Austin hoping to deprive the Texas Legislature of a quorum — the minimum number of representatives who have to be present for the body to operate, as they try to kill a Republican bill making it harder to vote in the Lone Star State. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

But broader impact would need a change in laws and Democrats, despite having a tiny majority in Congress, have been unable to get past Republican use of a blocking rule known as the filibuster.

Under the filibuster rule, it takes 60 out of the 100 senators to pass most legislation. Democrats have only 50 senators, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast a tie-breaking vote when needed.

Biden, however, has so far been reluctant to throw his weight fully behind calls by some Democrats to throw the filibuster out.

In the most dramatic episode of the ongoing struggle over voter access, Democratic lawmakers in Texas fled the state on Monday to prevent a quorum in the legislature, where the Republican majority was about to vote in new restrictions.

The Democrats’ exodus was the second time they’d used the unusual tactic to derail the bill. The Texans headed for Washington where they were lobbying congressional lawmakers to push ahead on federal voting protection laws.

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