‘Keep up the fight’: Biden pledges defence of US voting rights – US President Joe Biden has pledged to protect voting rights in the United States and reform law enforcement, while acknowledging that his agenda faces an uphill battle amid sharp political divisions in Congress.
During a commencement speech on Friday at South Carolina State University, a historically Black college, Biden said “the fight’s not over” to address police brutality issues in the country, which last year saw mass protests demanding racial justice.
“Maybe most important of all we have to protect that sacred right to vote,” said Biden, who has been in talks with senators about how to pursue Democratic-backed electoral reforms over the unyielding opposition of Republicans.
“Without the right to vote, there is no democracy,” he said.
Biden’s comments came after the US last month was added to the annual list of “backsliding” democracies for the first time. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance pointed to several US states that recently passed voter registration and other laws that disproportionately affect communities of colour to justify the US’s inclusion on the list.
Fernand de Varennes, a United Nations human rights expert, also said last month that the new state voting laws deny millions of people belonging to minority groups the equal right to vote and may undermine democracy.
The US Department of Justice sued Texas in early November over new state voting maps, arguing they infringe on federal voting and civil rights laws by disenfranchising Black, Latino and other voters of colour.
Texas’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed another piece of legislation into law in September that restricts voting access, arguing the measure would help combat voter fraud. But civil rights groups say SB1 is aimed at making it more difficult for Black and other Democratic-leaning voters to cast ballots.
Biden also spoke a day after he conceded that his nearly $2-trillion social and environmental bill – which has passed in the House of Representatives – was unlikely to become law this year due to continued disagreements among fellow Democrats.
Republicans are united in opposition to the proposed spending, and the US Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
“That other team. It used to be called the Republican Party,” Biden told the graduating class during his speech on Friday, digging at his political opposition. “But this battle’s not over … We’re going to keep up the fight until we get it done.”
He called Republican-led attempts to curtail voter enfranchisement “sinister” and “undemocratic”.
Biden also pledged to advocate for police reform, another issue important to the Black community that also has failed in Congress after months of once-promising negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.
US lawmakers have not been able to reach an agreement on a bill named after George Floyd, whose murder by a Minneapolis police officer last year set off countrywide demonstrations.
Biden’s speech in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on Friday came as opinion polls show he is losing ground with young voters and the future of his legislative agenda hangs in the balance in Washington.
But despite that, the US president expressed optimism for the future, saying that diverse graduates are taking up judicial and executive roles and changing the world.
“Your time here has come during a tumultuous and consequential moment in American history … Few classes every once in a few generations enter at a point in American history where it actually has the chance to change the trajectory of the country,” he told the graduates.
“I’m counting on you, I really am,” he said.