Biden urged to speak out more as concerns over US democracy grow

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden has received the same troubling questions from worried world leaders he never thought he would hear.

“Is America going to be okay?” ” they ask. “What about democracy in America? “

While Biden has tried to offer assurances to America’s allies, he has only occasionally pointed out the seriousness of the threat to democracy from the Jan. 6 insurgency on Capitol Hill and the repeated lie of the U.S. man he defeated, Donald Trump, that the 2020 election was stolen. And he did not discuss the very real concerns about a growing collection of insurgency supporters installed in local election stations and Republicans’ changes to election laws in several states.

Now, with the anniversary of that deadly day approaching, the Democratic president is urged to rearrange priorities and use the powers of his office to push through voting rights legislation that his adherents say could be the only effective way to counter rapidly emerging threats to the democratic process.

The tension in Biden’s approach reflects his balance between the urgent needs of Americans to move forward on the highly visible issues of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy, and the less visible, but equally vital, issue of preserving confidence in elections and government.

The president plans to deliver a speech on January 6 focused on maintaining democracy – voting rights will not be part of the remarks but will soon be the subject of another speech, White House aides said.

In his recent opening speech at South Carolina State University, Biden’s tone on the need for voting rights legislation became even more urgent.

“I’ve never seen anything like the relentless assault on the franchise. Never,” Biden said, adding, “This grim new combination of voter suppression and electoral subversion is anti-American. , it is undemocratic, and unfortunately, it is unprecedented since the Reconstruction. “

And the world notices it. Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan also said the riot on Capitol Hill has changed the view many countries have of the United States.

“January 6 had a big impact on the US perspective of the rest of the world, I think on the part of allies as well as adversaries,” Sullivan told the Council on Foreign Relations recently. “The allies look at him with concern and worry about the future of American democracy. The opponents are looking at him, you know, rather rubbing their hands together and thinking, How do we take advantage of this one way or another? “

In contrast, Republicans in many states are encouraging efforts to influence future elections by installing sympathetic leaders in local electoral posts and by supporting some of those who participated in the insurgency for elected office.

White House officials insist that Biden’s relative reluctance should not be interpreted as complacency towards the growing movement to rewrite history surrounding the January 6 riot. On the contrary, they say, the president believes the most effective way to tackle Trump, election denial and domestic extremism is to prove to the rest of the country – and the world – that the government can work.

“I know progress doesn’t come fast enough. It never happened,” Biden said last fall. “The process of government is frustrating and at times overwhelming. But I also know what is possible if we keep up the pressure, if we never give up, we keep the faith.”

In Biden’s view, many Trump voters have not fully embraced Trumpism. Instead, Trump exploited his long-standing dissatisfaction with the country’s political, economic and social systems to build his coalition.

So Biden adapted his national freshman curriculum to tackle what he believed to be the root causes of the unrest – the faltering economy and the brunt of the pandemic – primarily to prove that the government can work effectively.

He called on federal law enforcement to strengthen security in national institutions and improve communications systems and procedures that were in part responsible for the United States Capitol Police being overwhelmed. for hours during the onslaught of the crowd.

The Justice Department has launched the largest lawsuit in its history, indicting more than 700 defendants and seeking more.

But it’s the voting rights that many Democrats and activists concerned about what could happen in 2022 and beyond are urging the president to make it a key priority.

“The insurgency was part of a larger movement to suppress elections and overthrow our democracy,” said Christina Baal-Owens, longtime organizer and executive director of Public Wise, a group that researches and publishes news. on election candidates who support electoral lies.

Baal-Owens said efforts to discredit electoral integrity not only galvanize Trump supporters, but also make other voters less likely to vote. “We know – we’ve researched confidence in the system – if voters don’t trust elections, they may not vote. It’s part of a larger voter suppression movement and why it is so necessary for Biden to speak. “

The House approved sweeping voting rights legislation, but Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia were in the way, saying they opposed changing the rules of the House. Senate to bypass a GOP obstruction of the bill.

This legislation would restore the ability of the Department of Justice to review changes to electoral laws in states with a history of discrimination, a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 repealed by the United States Supreme Court in 2013. According to the Brennan Center, 19 states recently passed laws making it more difficult to vote.

Manchin and Sinema helped draft separate voting rights legislation, but it lacks enough Republican support to overcome the filibuster.

“People are taking sides instead of examining what the institutional threats are to the maintenance of our democracy,” said Democratic Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, candidate to replace Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who has announced his retirement.

Welch was on Capitol Hill on January 6 and the violence of that day is etched in his memory.

“The standards that have been the foundation of our democracy, the free and peaceful transition of power and the renunciation of violence, they have been shattered,” he said.

After Biden’s speech in South Carolina, Senate Democrats renewed their commitment to passing voting rights legislation in early 2022. And the president said in an interview with ABC that he supported the creation of ‘An exception to Senate filibustering if that’s what it takes to pass voting rights legislation. .

For Biden, who served four decades in the Senate, it was a remarkable concession and underscored the gravity of the threat. And, he admitted, he knows the world is watching to see how the nation reacts – and wonders if the country’s democracy will survive.

“Have you ever thought that another leader would ask you this question?” Biden said.

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