Biden calls voting restrictions ’21st Century Jim Crow’ at MLK memorial event

President Joe Biden used an event marking the 10-year anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial to ridicule Republicans who polls show have concluded he is not their legitimate president. 

Biden bemoaned the ‘something like 20 per cent of Republicans, half the Republicans’ who think ‘I am not your president. Donald Trump is still your president,’ amid polling that shows large swaths of Republicans believe Trump’s repeated claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

‘As the Catholics say, “oh my God!”‘ he said, earning laughs.

But much of his speech was deadly serious.

Biden spoke at the memorial’s site – on the banks of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. –  and demanded voting rights legislation, accusing the Republicans of pushing ’21st Century Jim Crow,’ after the Senate GOP blocked a Democratic proposal this week. 

Standing in the shadow of a 30-foot King statue, Biden called out efforts by GOP legislators for what he called an ‘assault’ on the right to vote.   

‘Today, the right to vote and the rule of law are under unrelenting assault from Republican governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, state legislators, and they’re following my predecessor, the last president, into a deep, deep black hole and abyss,’ Biden said.

‘This struggle is no longer just over who gets to vote … It’s about who gets to count the votes. Whether they should count at all. Jim Crow in the 21st century is now a sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion,’ he added.  

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris arrive at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Biden ripped new GOP election laws and mocked Republicans who don’t think he is their president 

‘It’s unfair, it’s unconscionable and it’s un-American,’ Biden said of efforts to block an expanded Voting Rights Act. 

Biden said the Capitol riot, which came the day Congress met to count the electoral votes, ‘was about white supremacy in my view.’ 

He called out President Trump by name, saying he ‘appealed to the prejudice.’

Biden said Trump also ‘ripped the band aid off – made it absolutely clear what’s at stake.’

He accused Republicans of ‘using authorities to challenge the onslaught of state laws, undermining voting rights, whether in old or new ways.’  

He also used the occasion to plug elements of his embattled build back better agenda, as lawmakers negotiate to whittle it down.

‘We can afford to do this. We can’t afford not to do it,’ he said of the plan’s universal pre-K proposals.

He called for passing ‘meaningful police reform’ after the biparisan collapse of negotiations over legislation sparked by the death of George Floyd.

‘We haven’t fulfilled that yet. I understand,’ Biden said.

Biden gave a shout-out to a nearby statue of founder Thomas Jefferson, located across the Tidal Basin from the MLK memorial – days after a Jefferson statue was removed from New York’s City Hall. 

Biden called Jefferson ‘another giant of our history,’ adding his words ‘declared the very idea of America.’ 

The New York statue is being removed because of opposition from city council members; the primary author of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson was a slave owner. 

After the announcement, Trump sent out a statement that mocked the decision.

‘Next up, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and, of course, George Washington,’ the former president warned. 

Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke about voting rights

Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke about voting rights

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quoted from the late civil rights champion Rep. John Lewis, who spoke at the original dedication.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quoted from the late civil rights champion Rep. John Lewis, who spoke at the original dedication.

Biden spoke during a critical week for his agenda

Biden spoke during a critical week for his agenda

Earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris blasted Republicans for voting Wednesday to block the Freedom to Vote Act, which would have changed election laws and made Election Day a national holiday. 

‘We must summon our own power. As leaders we must leverage our own power,’ said Harris. 

On Wednesday, Democrats didn’t have enough votes to override a Republican filibuster to advance the voting rights bill. 

They would have needed 10 Republicans to join them to meet the 60-vote threshold. 

They got zero instead.  

It marked the third time Senate Democrats tried to advance the voting rights bill.

Some Democrats have suggested creating a carve-out of the filibuster to get the voting bill passed, however moderates including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have indicated they don’t want to tamper with the procedure.  

The memorial, located near the Tidal Basin where Washingtonians and visitors view the annual cherry blossoms, features an imposing 30-foot statue of King, along with inscriptions carved in stone with 14 quotations. 

At a time when confederate statues are being removed – including the prominent statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia – King’s was the first memorial to honor a black person on the National Mall. 

Biden and Harris – the nation’s first black vice president – and the crowd were treated to a performance of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’

The memorial was designed around a King quotation, ‘ Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.’ The line comes from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quoted from the late civil rights champion Rep. John Lewis, who spoke at the original dedication. 

Lewis called it ‘a monument to peace to love and to nonviolent resistance on the front yard of America.’

Added Pelosi, ‘It has brought luster to the front lawn.’

‘Isn’t it a thrill and an honor, a privilege to be here with President Biden today,’ she said. 

She added she was ‘proud’ to be with the first woman and first black vice president.

She quoted King saying it was not the purpose to have some living in ‘inordinate wealth’ while others ‘live in abject, deadly poverty’ – on a day she acknowledged opposition to tax hikes on the wealthy by Sinema.