WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has gotten the same troubling questions from worried world leaders, ones that he never thought he would hear.
“Is America going to be all right?” they ask. “What about democracy in America?”
While Biden has tried to offer America’s allies assurances, he has only occasionally emphasized the gravity of the threat to democracy from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the repeated lie from the man he defeated, Donald Trump, that the 2020 election was stolen.
Now, as the anniversary of that deadly day nears, the president is being urged to reorder priorities and use the powers of his office to push voting rights legislation that its adherents say could be the only effective way to counter the rapidly emerging threats to the democratic process.
The tension in Biden’s approach reflects his balancing of the urgent needs of Americans to make progress on the highly visible issues of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy and the less visible, but equally vital, issue of preserving trust in elections and government.
The president plans to deliver a speech on Jan. 6 focused on sustaining democracy — voting rights won’t be part of the remarks but will be the topic of another speech soon, White House aides said.
In his recent commencement address at South Carolina State University, Biden’s tone on the need for voting rights legislation took on added urgency.
“I’ve never seen anything like the unrelenting assault on the right to vote. Never,” Biden said, adding, “This new sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion, it’s un-American, it’s undemocratic, and sadly, it is unprecedented since Reconstruction.”
The House has approved far-reaching voting rights legislation, but Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have been impediments, saying they oppose changing Senate rules to get around a GOP filibuster of the bill.
That legislation would restore the Justice Department’s ability to review changes to election laws in states with a history of discrimination, a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. According to the Brennan Center, 19 states have recently passed laws making it harder to vote.
Manchin and Sinema have helped draft separate voting rights legislation, but it lacks enough Republican support to overcome the filibuster.