Biden’s speech against voting rights assaults lacked ‘urgency,’ NAACP head says

EXCLUSIVE: President Joe Biden delivered impassioned remarks against Republican efforts to restrict access to the ballot. Rev. Al Sharpton called his speech "monumental," but NAACP President Derrick Johnson believes it missed the mark.

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Voting rights continue to dominate headlines across the country. Two cities, D.C. and Philadelphia, became the focal point of attention as lawmakers in statehouses and on Capitol Hill spar over legislation that stands to make or break democracy as we have known it in the modern era. 

U.S. President Joe Biden,
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about voting rights at the National Constitution Center on July 13, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

To meet the moment, President Joe Biden called this “a test of our time” in his Tuesday speech in Philadelphia as he announced that he has doubled the size of the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department in the midst of the challenges.  

Biden placed the blame for the democratic assaults on the “big lie” believed by millions of Trump supporters regarding the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. The president also recalled the country’s history of denying enslaved Black people the right to vote, arguing that today’s string of state bills “targeting people of color” and making it more difficult for them to vote is essentially a modern version of America’s racist past.

“Have you no shame?” Biden asked.

Reverend Al Sharpton, who canceled several events to attend the president’s speech in Philadelphia, told theGrio he believed Biden’s remarks were one among his strongest speeches to date. 

On the heels of a recent civil rights meeting with the president last week, Sharpton said he urged Biden to use his bully pulpit to address the issue of voting rights. 

After the speech, Rev. Sharpton said it was “monumental” for President Biden to include race in his speech, however, Sharpton noted the absence of any mention of the controversial and much reported Senate filibuster. He said he would continue to push the president on the matter.

Similarly, NAACP President Derrick Johnson lamented over President Biden’s speech, telling theGrio that the “sense of urgency [was] lacking.”

Johnson noted that this September, data from the 2020 Census will be released and will determine the redistricting process across states. For the first time since the 1970s, he noted, maps will be redrawn “without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act,” as key parts of the civil rights law have been diluted following the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson,
NAACP President Derrick Johnson addresses the Newsmaker Luncheon at the National Press Club August 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The consequence of that ruling was evident in the Court’s recent decision earlier this month that Arizona’s election policies outlawing ballot harvesting and out-of-precinct voting were not racially discriminatory.

Mr. Johnson said this will have a “deviating effect” in future elections without the passing of the For The People Act, which many argue can’t be passed without eliminating or modifying the filibuster to bypass Senate Republicans. The boundaries in this fall’s redrawn maps, he said, could “eliminate opportunities for African Americans and other communities from electing their choice” in local and congressional races.

When asked by theGrio‘s April Ryan why he did not mention the filibuster, President Biden coyly said, “I’m not filibustering now.”

Since meeting with the eight civil rights leaders at the White House last week, the groups have sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They have been promised a response but have yet to receive one.

Reverend Sharpton said people don’t understand how close we are to voting rights collapsing.

Al Sharpton (R) talks with guests before U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about voting rights at the National Constitution Center on July 13, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This issue is so alarming that House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has recently begun to bring attention to it through public statements. The South Carolina congressman thinks it’s time to navigate around the filibuster through what is known as a carveout, which happens to be a strategy then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell used to get Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination through. 

Voting rights have been taking various hits since the Shelby vs Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013. But the national and local democratic wins in the last election cycle have renewed assaults on access to the ballot box. Although Democrats have majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, and control the executive branch, conservatives on the Supreme Court and in statehouses are working to weaken and create more restrictive voting practices.  

At the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris met with Texas lawmakers on Thursday who fled the Lone Star State to protect voting rights against a vote to enact new restrictive voting laws proposed by Texas Republicans. 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks at the Louis Stokes Library on the campus of her alma mater Howard University on July 08, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden was aware of the meeting last night when the lawmakers arrived in Washington. Harris also previously met with the delegation on June 16 when Biden was out of the country.

As Washington continues to take on federal voting rights packages, Texas Congressman Al Green will hold a virtual town hall on Wednesday. This event will include the Texas democratic legislators who fled the state to halt motion on restrictive voting laws. 

Sharpton affirmed his support of those lawmakers and pledged to stand up for them.

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