President Joe Biden on Tuesday castigated Republicans for supporting popular election security reforms with a hyperbolic stream of invective accusing his opponents of subverting elections, of posing a "dangerous" threat to democracy, and generally being "un-American."
"We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That's not hyperbole," Biden said, speaking at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
The president spoke partly to condemn his predecessor Donald Trump's refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, partly to criticize Republican-controlled states like Georgia and Texas for passing election security bills, and partly to rally support for the For the People Act — federal voting legislation supported by Democrats that would weaken state voter ID requirements and override other Republican reforms at the state level.
The president made no mention of the Senate filibuster or the fact that the Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to overcome opposition to the major pieces of his agenda, including voting reforms. Instead, Biden used the bully pulpit of the presidency to paint concerns over election security as conspiratorial and supportive of a broad attack on democracy itself.
"The 2020 election was the most scrutinized election ever in American history. Challenge after challenge brought to local, state and election officials, state legislatures, state and federal courts, even to the United States Supreme Court not once, but twice. More than 80 judges, including those appointed by my predecessor, heard the arguments. In every case neither cause nor evidence was found to undermine the national achievement of administering the historic election in the face of such extraordinary challenges," Biden said.
"The Big Lie is just that: A big lie," he declared, referring to Trump's claims that the election was fraudulent and that Biden's victory was illegitimate.
"In America, if you lose, you accept the results, you follow the Constitution. You try again. You don't call facts fake and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you're unhappy. That's not statesmanship – that's selfishness," Biden said.
Biden tied Republican opposition to the For the People Act with historic efforts to deny black Americans and women the right to vote. He cast the Democratic voting bill as an antidote that would "end voter suppression in states." And he predicted that Republicans would launch "a new wave of unprecedented voter suppression and raw and sustained election subversion" ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, calling on Congress to act now.
The president said that a recent Supreme Court decision upholding two controversial election reforms in Arizona "does not limit the Congress' ability to repair the damage done."
He went on to slam election laws like those passed in Georgia and Texas, calling them "racist and discriminatory."
Biden accused Texas Republicans, for example, of wanting "partisan poll workers" to intimidate voters.
"They want voters to drive further" and "wait longer to vote," he claimed, repeating falsehoods about the Texas law. He made the incredible and unsubstantiated claim that Republicans "want the ability to reject the final count and ignore the will of the people if their preferred candidate loses," comparing the actions of Trump-supporting Republicans to those of autocracies around the world.
He further called 28 Republican voting measures enacted across 17 states a "21st century Jim Crow assault."
Even as Biden launched explicitly partisan attacks against his opposition, he sought to portray Democratic efforts to undo GOP election reforms as a bipartisan cause.
"We'll be asking my Republican friends in Congress and states and cities and counties to stand up for God sake and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election and the sacred right to vote," Biden said.
"Have you no shame?" he demanded of Republicans.
"This isn't about Democrats or Republicans. It's literally about who we are as Americans. It's that basic. It's about the kind of country we want today."
Closing, the president said Republicans are leading "an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections. An assault on democracy. An assault on liberty. An assault on who we are."
It was a starkly divisive speech from a president who aspired to unite the country.
Reacting, the Republican National Committee dismissed Biden's speech as "lies and theatrics."
"After Democrats failed to pass their federal takeover of our elections (H.R.1), Biden is continuing their dishonest attacks on commonsense election integrity efforts," said RNC spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez. "Meanwhile, Republicans are engaged in state-led efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and polling shows Americans overwhelmingly support these laws."
The president's remarks are the beginning of a major messaging effort by the administration to attack Republican election reforms and rally support for Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. However, Biden's strategy of using a public pressure campaign betrays the reality that even with full control of government, Democrats do not have enough support among their own members to go nuclear and steamroll the minority.
Outspoken moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) may attract public scorn from progressive activists for being opposed to abolishing the filibuster, but there are more than a handful of Senate Democrats who have kept their own opposition quiet. Without their support, Biden's words remain all bark and no bite.