Durbin: Perhaps Biden’s Atlanta Speech ‘Went a Little Too Far’

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2021. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) acknowledged that President Biden might have gone “too far” in his Tuesday speech advocating a suspension of filibuster rules to pass voting legislation.

“Perhaps the President went a little too far in his rhetoric,” Durbin said during an appearance on CNN on Wednesday, referring to the speech in which Biden likened Republicans who have opposed Democrats’ voting-rights bills to segregationists and racists.

“Some of us do, but the fundamental principles and values at stake are very similar,” Durbin added.

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.

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“So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered?” Biden said during his speech on Tuesday. “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?”

Republicans lambasted the 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.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed Republican criticism of the speech on Wednesday. 

“I think anyone would note there’s a night-and-day difference between fomenting an insurrection on lies totally debunked . . . and making objective true statements, which is what the president made yesterday,” Psaki responded. “I know there has been a lot of claims about the offensive nature of the speech yesterday, which is hilarious on many levels given how many people sat silently over the last four years for the former president.”

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