“The right to vote and to have that vote count is the threshold of freedom for democracy. Without it, nothing is possible. But with it, everything is possible,” Biden said during one of the moments. most important of his presidency.
So his speech in Atlanta set up an immediate test of political weight for a White House that has grown accustomed to setting legislative deadlines and missing them – in part because of political mistakes as well as the difficulty of working with marginal Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill. . The first hurdle looms on Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledging to bring forward proposed rule changes to help bring John Lewis’ Advancement of Voting Rights Act into effect. and the Free Voting Law.
A decisive moment
While Biden has spent months in torturous negotiations in support of his broad national agenda, he never quite staked out the kind of watershed moment he conceived in Atlanta on Tuesday.
History suggests that towering presidential accomplishments often need a Commander-in-Chief to devote massive amounts of prestige to the effort. It is possible that the president could move the needle and create the conditions for success that would considerably strengthen his reputation and his track record.
A changed president
Tuesday’s speech also marked a development for Biden as president. He leaned on his skyrocketing speech on the first anniversary of the Capitol uprising last week in what now looks like a political reset after six difficult months.
Even as vice president and in the early months of his presidency, Biden often appeared as a creature of his beloved Senate. Now, his willingness to embrace the obstructive changes he’s always opposed marks a big step away from the bedroom he loves and his idealized take on his courtesy and customs.
The Atlanta speech was notable for the same kind of harsh, blunt language Biden used to denounce Trump’s authoritarian impulses in Statuary Hall on the January 6 anniversary last week. Biden appears to have come some distance before being the unifying force he embodied in his inaugural address last year that helped produce the bipartisan infrastructure law. Perhaps his most important bet in Tuesday’s speech was the clarity of the language he used to call out to anyone who opposes his plan.
“I ask all the elected Americans, how do you want to be remembered? Biden asked, arguing that important moments in history present a choice.
“Do you want to be on Dr. King’s side or George Wallace’s side?” Biden asked. “Do you want to be on John Lewis or Bull Connor’s side?” Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? ”
“Now is the time to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”
“You change the rules with two-thirds of the people there, so it’s the Democrats, the Republicans who change the rules to make the place work better; getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it run better,” said Manchin to reporters.
Unless Schumer and Biden can craft some sort of compromise solution that would allow Manchin to say he stuck to his guns – or the weight of effectively sinking one of the bills he has drafted himself starting to weigh on West Virginia – his stance, as reported on Tuesday, would stop the Bills in their tracks.
The possibility raises the question of whether Biden’s striking language on Tuesday was not just meant to persuade, but was also a cover to protect his position if it failed.
While the president made a bet with the force of his appeal, the political consequences of doing nothing would have been deeply damaging. This is because many Democrats and independent election analysts believe the party’s chances in future elections are in jeopardy due to attempts by GOP-led, Trump-inspired states to make it harder to vote and influence more. easily the election results.
Instead of acting a year ago on voting rights, Biden spent months hesitating to break the limited cooperation that existed in the Senate to get the infrastructure bill passed, as the basis for his calls for national unity. (However, the president’s critiques do not explain how tackling voting rights first would have solved the Manchin-Sinema conundrum or alleviated the inability to live in a 50-50 Senate. ) But for the sake of his own credibility after a period of his approval ratings plummeting, as the pandemic dragged on and inflation increased, the president had a political imperative to be fighting and bold. right now.
In short, Biden had little choice but to act like his own. The perilous resonance of the moment for Democrats, with voting bills stalled in the Senate, was summed up by Vice President Kamala Harris, who was with him in Georgia.
“We don’t know when we will have this opportunity again,” she said.