“How deeply – deeply – unpretentious,” the Kentucky Republican said Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “I have known, liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man on the podium yesterday.”
“At subsequent moments in history, they present a choice,” Biden said in his speech. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. Kings 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?”
Despite Biden’s pressure, Senate Democrats are unlikely to pass voting legislation because of influential centrists like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are unlikely to support the necessary rule changes.
McConnell seemed to recognize that Democrats do not have enough votes to eliminate the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to advance most of the legislation, saying Biden had compared “a two-party majority of senators to literal traitors.”
“You could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than what we have just seen, a president who abandons rational persuasion for pure, pure, demagoguery,” McConnell said. “A president who shouts that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racists unless he gets what he wants proves exactly why the inventors built the senate to control his power.”
In response to McConnell’s sharp criticism, Biden told reporters he liked the Senate GOP leader and called McConnell “a friend.”
Many Democratic senators want to change the filibuster rules to pass legislation that extends access to the ballot box over a Republican blockade in the Senate. In the past year, 19 states passed 34 laws restricting voting in one way or another, according to one analysis from the liberal-oriented Brennan Center for Justice.
The first bill would make broad changes, including establishing Election Day as a public holiday, mandating same-day voter registration, guaranteeing that all voters can request postal ballots, and restore federal voting rights for former criminals once released from prison. The second measure would restore the power of the federal government to oversee state voting laws to prevent discrimination against minority voters. The third bill will further clarify the process of certifying a presidential election, after then-President Donald Trump and his advisers called on then-Vice President Mike Pence to drop Biden’s electoral roll on January 6, 2021.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Ammar Moussa called McConnell’s speech Wednesday a hypocritical “tantrum” and noted that the senator had changed Senate rules to get rid of the filibuster for Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. McConnell did so after Democrats changed the rules for lower-level judge nominees under President Barack Obama, who blamed McConnell for blocking or delaying many of his nominees.
“While McConnell is leading the Republicans in their relentless war against the protection of the right to vote and the hypocritical defense of Senate rules, President Biden and the Democrats continue to fight to protect American fundamental rights,” Moussa said. “Mitch McConnell can save his crocodile tears – the American people are just looking through it.”
McConnell also claimed Wednesday that Democrats are undermining the 2022 election, as opinion polls show Biden’s approval rating underwater.
“The people who spent November 2020 through January 21 preaching about the strength and sanctity of our democracy are now committing themselves to delegitimizing the next election if they lose it,” McConnell said.
This story has been updated with further development on Wednesday.
CNN’s Fredreka Schouten, Ali Zaslav, Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.
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