President demands Americans pick a 'side? on holiday honoring civil rights hero who preached unity
US President Joe Biden marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a speech linking the civil rights leader's efforts to unite Americans to his own party's voting rights legislation, all but dismissing those against it as racists.
Biden called on Americans to "commit to [King's] unfinished work" on Monday, describing that work as "to deliver jobs and justice" and "to protect the sacred right to vote, the right from which all other rights flow."
In the pre-recorded speech, he attempted to connect King's accomplishments to the voting rights legislation package Democrats have struggled to pass in the face of opposition from both Republicans and two of their own senators.
Those unprepared to support the party's legislation package were accused of not supporting "an America in which everyone is guaranteed the full protections and the full promise of this nation," Biden said, demanding to know "Where do we stand? Whose side are we on? Will we stand against voter suppression, yes or no? Will we stand against election subversion, yes or no?"
The proposals in question would expand access to mail-in voting, impose federal oversight on states with a "history of racial discrimination" and tighten campaign finance rules, all supposedly in response to laws recently passed in Republican-led states allegedly aimed at making it more difficult for poor and non-white Americans to vote.
However, it's not clear how or by whom racial discrimination would be evaluated or punished, and opponents have denounced the legislation as a blatant giveaway to the Democratic Party. A Senate vote on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday, though the two Democratic holdouts - Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona - remain opposed to its passage as of Monday.
"The attack on our democracy is real, from the January 6 insurrection to the onslaught of Republicans' anti-voting laws in a number of states," Biden declared in the MLK speech.
During his lifetime, King identified with neither the Democratic nor the Republican party, accusing both of having betrayed his people. As the civil rights movement began achieving some of its goals regarding racial equality, King spoke more openly about the need to unite the poor and working classes of all races, views some believe led to his assassination in 1968.
Last week, Biden implied he had been arrested during a civil rights protest during the 1960s, further embellishing a fictional history of involvement in the movement. Even the typically pro-Biden Washington Post rated the president's claim "four Pinocchios," its harshest fact-check rating.
Biden was previously forced to walk back another false claim regarding his supposed anti-apartheid activism in South Africa, where he had insisted he was arrested while trying to meet with the imprisoned activist leader Nelson Mandela.