President Biden on Tuesday branded the Capitol riot a “coup” attempt and called on the Senate to scrap its usual 60-vote threshold to pass a pair of election reform bills — but his message was clouded by distracting gaffes.
Biden’s sharpened attack on former President Donald Trump and his supporters was bracketed by Biden once again referring to Vice President Kamala Harris as “President Harris” and by his assertion that he was arrested multiple times while fighting for civil rights.
“We’re here today to stand against the forces in America that value power over principle —forces that attempted a coup, a coup against the legally expressed will of the American people by sowing doubt, inventing charges of fraud and seeking to steal the 2020 election from the people,” Biden said at a shared Atlanta venue for historically black colleges.
“They want chaos to reign. We want the people to rule,” said the president, adding, “The battle for the soul of America is not over. We must stand strong and stand together to make sure Jan. 6 marks not the end of democracy, but the beginning of a renaissance of our democracy.”
It’s unclear if Biden has ever before used the term “coup” to describe the riot that disrupted certification of his victory in the Electoral College. He did not use the word last week in his speech on the first anniversary of the deadly riot.
The term is generally used by the US government to describe unrest in foreign countries — and Biden used the word in the service of a push to pass federal election reforms that would override recent election law changes in Republican-led states, which Biden linked to the riot and Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.
“The defeated former president and his supporters use the big lie about the 2020 election to fuel torrent and torment and anti-voting laws,” he said.
The stalled federal election bills aren’t expected to pass because centrist Senate Democrats refuse to lower the threshold to begin and end debate on most legislation from 60 votes to 50 votes. But the issue is a base-rallying cause and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) intends to bring the matter to a vote by Martin Luther King Jr. Day next week.
Biden said that federal legislation was needed to ensure people can continue to vote by mail, which was expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Voting by mail is a safe and convenient way to get more people to vote. So they’re making it harder for you to vote by mail,” Biden said.
In stark terms he urged Senate centrists to pick a side between racist historical figures and crusaders for civil rights.
“I ask every elected official in America. How do you want to be remembered?” Biden said.
“Do you want to be the side of the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” he went on. “Do you want to be the site of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide.”
House Republicans were quick to respond, tweeting a 1987 article in which Biden recounted praise he had received from the segregationist Wallace while a young senator.
Democrats have seized upon the voting rights issue amid a series of political setbacks that have caused Biden’s poll numbers to plummet, including the highest inflation in 39 years and record-smashing rates of new COVID-19 infections nearly two years into the pandemic.
But Biden stepped on his own message with the apparent gaffes.
“I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds, but I walked other grounds. Cause I’m so damn old I was there as well,” the 79-year-old president said. “You think I’m kidding, man. It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested.”
Whjte House spokespeople did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for information on Biden’s purported arrests. His 2007 autobiography “Promises to Keep” describes no such arrests.
In 2020, Biden infamously claimed he “had the great honor of being arrested” in South Africa when he was “trying to get to see [Nelson Mandela] on Robben Island,” where Mandela was in prison until 1990. He said Mandela thanked him for it. Later, he admitted that it was untrue and that “I wasn’t arrested, I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go.”
Biden opened his much-hyped speech by calling Harris “president” — repeating a gaffe that he’s made at least three times before.
“Last week, President Harris and I stood in the United States Capitol to observe one of those before-and-after moments in American history: The January 6 insurrection on the citadel of our democracy,” he said. “Today we come to Atlanta, the cradle of civil rights, to make clear what must come after that dreadful day when a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy.”
Critics say Biden has misrepresented state laws that Republicans argue are intended to reduce the risk of voter fraud and to phase out COVID-19 pandemic policies that expanded remote voting. The Washington Post awarded Biden “Four Pinocchios” in April for falsely describing a new Georgia law’s impact on voting hours.
The Georgia law doesn’t alter Election Day hours but expands early voting by adding a second mandatory Saturday. It affirms that counties can open for early voting on two Sundays and allows counties to extend early voting hours beyond normal business hours. Democrats oppose provisions that require a photo ID to get an absentee ballot, shorten the window of time to vote absentee and allow state officials to take over local election offices in response to alleged misconduct.
The federal bills pushed by Biden include the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would force certain states to gain federal approval for changes to election laws, responding to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that reduced post-Civil Rights Era oversight. The other, the Freedom to Vote Act, would make Election Day a holiday, force states to allow no-excuse mail-in voting and require that most jurisdictions allow 10 hours per day of early voting for two weeks before an election. That bill would bar states from requiring people to show ID to get a mail-in ballot.
Senate Republicans led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have floated a compromise where they would reduce the role of Congress in certifying the results of the Electoral College results, arguing it would in effect eliminate the possibility of another riot aimed at reversing a presidential election outcome.
Biden’s push for federal legislation is likely to amount to little if Senate centrists remain unswayed. Their support would be needed to lower the voting threshold to 50 votes.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said last month that Sinema “continues to support the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, to protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions, and further erode Americans’ confidence in our government.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) also supports keeping the upper chamber’s 60-vote threshold for most non-budget legislation and a handful of other moderate Democrats, including Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), are not publicly supportive of the move pushed by Biden.