White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday claimed President Biden was not comparing opponents of Democrats’ voting bill to racists and segregationists as “humans,” explaining that he was just comparing their “choice” to oppose the legislation during his speech in Atlanta earlier this week.
“So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered?” Biden said during his speech advocating a suspension of filibuster rules to pass voting legislation. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”
Psaki said Friday: “I think everybody listening to that speech who’s speaking on the level, as my mother would say, would note that he was not comparing them as humans; he was comparing the choice to those figures in history and where they’re going to position themselves as they determine whether they’re going to support the fundamental right to vote or not.”
Psaki dismissed Republican criticism of the speech earlier in the week, saying “claims about the offensive nature of the speech” are “hilarious on many levels given how many people sat silently over the last four years for the former president.”
Republicans lambasted Biden’s speech, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who called it “profoundly, profoundly unpresidential.”
“Look, I’ve known, liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at the podium yesterday,” McConnell said.
The Senate minority leader panned Biden for bringing up the Civil War “to demonize Americans who disagree with him” and noted that the president likened “a bipartisan majority of senators to literal traitors.”
Even Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois acknowledged on Wednesday that Biden might have gone “a little too far in his rhetoric.”
Biden’s speech on Tuesday attempted to gin up support for the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The former would federalize some facets of elections, including setting a 15-day minimum early-voting period and setting national standards for voter-ID laws to include a range of documentation. The latter would restore portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that allowed the Justice Department to review election-rule changes in districts with a history of discrimination.