Senate Democrats pile on President Biden's very bad week

Republicans already spent the week in a tizzy over President Joe Biden voting rights effort. Democrats didn't help

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published January 14, 2022 2:31AM (EST)

Joe Manchin, Joe Biden and Kyrsten Sinema (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Manchin, Joe Biden and Kyrsten Sinema (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

After conservatives spent the week in a tizzy over President Joe Biden voting rights effort, Senate Democrats seemed to pile on, suggesting he went too far and signaling that they will not support him. 

"Perhaps the president went a little too far in rhetoric," Illinois' Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, said after Biden's speech Wednesday. 

Biden delivered a forceful plea on Wednesday in Atlanta, urging the country's lawmakers to choose a "democracy over autocracy" by passing the Freedom to Vote and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement acts. The bills would collectively establish national protections around mail-in balloting, early voting, and same-day registration. They would also require states with histories of voter discrimination to submit their election bills to the federal government for review before being enacted.

RELATED: Bills targeting local officials who resisted Trump could allow GOP to "overturn election results"

"We must find a way to pass these voting rights bills," Biden said during his speech. "Debate them, vote, let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules – including getting rid of the filibuster."

The president also said that he was "tired of being quiet" on the filibuster, urging Senate Democrats to change the body's rules so that it could free Congress from gridlock, allowing it to pass the voting overhaul. 

"How do you want to be remembered?" Biden asked. "Do you want to be on the side of Dr King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? On the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?" 

Beyond Democrats like Durbin, Biden's comments also did not sit well with conservative pundits, many of whom took issue with Biden's historical analogy. 

RELATED: Biden must make clear what Republicans know: The fight for democracy is a struggle over racism

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"Anyone who has watched our show more than once knows that we have been calling for this issue to be taken up first for a year – ahead of BBB," tweeted MSNBC's Joe Scarborough. "The question is whether comparing members to Bull Conner and Jefferson Davis moves the bills closer to passage."

"Jefferson Davis, really?" echoed Fox News host Tucker Carlson. "So if you oppose an unconstitutional power grab by corrupt politicians in their 80s, you are the leader of a confederacy."

Other right-wingers downplayed the value of voting rights amid economic concerns around rising prices.  

"As inflation reaches record levels, Joe Biden spends his time and energy lying about voter ID laws," tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

"Inflation just hit 7%, the highest rate since 1982," chimed Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. "But don't worry, Biden's hard at work calling Americans racist for wanting voter ID."

According to last week's jobs number, Biden has in fact steered the economy out of the pandemic with record job growth and employment numbers. Specifically, the U.S. saw 6.4 million new jobs added to the economy in 2021 – the biggest one-year jump on record. To boot, unemployment plummeted from 6.7% last January to 3.9% this year. 

RELATED: Behind Biden's booming economy

For their part, the two top Democratic foes to Biden's agenda in the Senate indicated on Thursday that they have no plans to support the voting rights legislation, even as Senate Majority Leader announced he plans to suspend next week's planned recess to force a vote on the issue. The House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that merges the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which strengthens the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act, which overhauls federal elections. 

"Eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come," Arizona's Krysten Sinema said in a floor speech on Thursday. Repeating his prior opposition, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin appluaded Sinema's position, crushing any chance of the voting rights legislation passing a near evenly split upper chamber. 

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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