Biden travels to Philly to call for action on voting rights

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on actions to protect voting rights in a speech in Philadelphia
President Joe Biden pauses as he delivers remarks on actions to protect voting rights in a speech at National Constitution Center.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

President Joe Biden came to Philadelphia on Tuesday to call for action against what he referred to as an “unfolding assault” by Republicans in states around the country to suppress and subvert the right to vote.

Local lawmakers in more than a dozen states have passed legislation this year to tighten voting regulations, mostly in the name of election security, as backers of former President Donald Trump continue to raise unfounded concerns about voter fraud.

In Pennsylvania, at least one GOP legislator has attempted to initiate a “forensic investigation” into the previous two elections, and an effort is underway to implement new voter identification statutes.

“It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history,” Biden told about 300 people gathered Tuesday afternoon at the National Constitution Center.

Biden was greeted at Philadelphia International Airport by several elected officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney, whom the president called a “great mayor” at the beginning of his speech.

People held up their phones to snap pictures of Biden’s motorcade as it rolled through the city en route to Independence Mall.

President Joe Biden greets local Democratic Party’s leaders as he arrives at Philadelphia International Airport on July 13. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Biden, in his address, said state legislatures were not just setting up barriers to voting but deciding who determines what ballots are counted.

“The 21st century Jim Crow assault is real,” he said. “It’s unrelenting. We’re going to challenge it vigorously.”

It is imperative, the president added, for Congress to pass the For the People Act and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, which was weakened earlier this month following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The For the People Act would expand voting opportunities for people nationwide, provide more information about campaign donors and reform the redistricting process.

After it stalled in the U.S. Senate, some Democrats called for an end to the filibuster, a procedure that effectively means bills need 60% support in order to pass.

Biden did not mention the filibuster in his speech; when later asked by reporters while greeting those in attendance at the Constitution Center, he said, “I’m not filibustering now.”

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022, said he would “proudly” cast a vote to abolish the filibuster.

“All across America, wingnut Republicans are introducing legislation to combat the fictional problem of voter fraud,” he said in a statement. “These bills are a blatant attempt to suppress democratic votes.”

Since the beginning of the year, 17 states have enacted 28 new laws restricting the right to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Biden said he has tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with building a coalition to protect voting rights, and he has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to double the size of its voting rights division.

President Joe Biden reacts as he delivers remarks on actions to protect voting rights in a speech at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation that would have required in-person voters to show identification and created a signature-matching process for mail ballots.

Republicans have vowed to continue fighting for voter ID rules, potentially through an amendment to the state constitution.

“Not only will I stand against any efforts to roll back our freedoms, I will continue to push for changes to take down the barriers to voting that still exist,” Wolf said in a statement Tuesday.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who also attended Biden’s speech, said on Twitter that the state is “the epicenter of the battle for voting rights.”

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Trump supporter, last week requested election information from several counties, including Philadelphia, to investigate the results of the 2020 general election and 2021 primary.

Officials from Wolf’s administration have issued a directive warning election boards not to turn over any balloting software or electronics.

Biden, in his address, recapped the events of the 2020 election, saying democracy stood up to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and rampant misinformation.

“No other election has ever been held under such scrutiny, such high standards,” he added. “The big lie is just that — a big lie.”

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