Biden came under fire last week for seemingly comparing those opposed to Democrat-designed voting rights legislation to Civil rights era white supremacist Bull Connor. A change to the filibuster (requiring 60 votes to advance most legislation) has been pursued by Democrats in order to enact the much-touted bill amid Republican opposition.
President Joe Biden got really annoyed on Wednesday when answering a reporter’s question regarding his voting rights speech in Atlanta last week, insisting that he did not compare senators who oppose election reform bills to Bull Connor and George Wallace, known for their racial segregation stance.
“Look at what I said. Go back and read what I said and tell me if you think I called anyone who voted on the side of the position taken by Bull Connor that they were Bull Connor,” Biden said in response, raising his voice. “That is an interesting reading of English. I assume you got into journalism because you like to write.”
However, it appeared that Biden did, in fact, compare those who oppose the passage of the bill promoted by the White House with the famous racists of the last century, in particular with the notorious Alabama Governor George Wallace, who gained national recognition by standing in front of the University of Alabama’s entrance, blocking the way of black students, in an attempt to prevent the university’s racial integration.
“I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered? At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: 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?” Biden said on January 11.
Back then he also stressed that it was the moment “to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.” Those remarks and apparent comparisons infuriated Republicans, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed the speech, calling it “profoundly unpresidential” and “incorrect,” and other Republicans have echoed his criticism.
During his news conference, Biden again denied comparing politicians who do not support the proposed voting rights legislation to historical leaders who backed segregation.
“I did not say that they were going to be a George Wallace or a Bull Connor. I said we’re going to have a decision in history that is going to be marked just like it was then. You either voted on the side – that didn’t make you George Wallace or it didn’t make you Bull Connor, but if you did not vote for the Voting Rights Act back then, you were voting with those who agreed with Connor,” Biden said.
More to that, he noted that “Mitch” did “a really good job making it sound like I was attacking them,” while instead, reporters should note that the president has never attacked “anybody publicly, any senator, any congressman publicly.”
“My disagreements with them have been … communicated to them privately or in-person with them,” he emphasized.
Nevertheless, Biden’s emotional response has prompted a lot of jokes on social media.
Meanwhile, the White House reporter who dared to ask the unpleasant question prompting Biden’s heated reaction, tweeted that it was not the first time he had the “honor” to be yelled at by a president.
Democrat Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have stood solid in their opposition to reducing the use of the filibuster. And Biden’s campaign for voting rights legislation is likely in the Senate this week.
When asked subsequently if he thought his words would be effective in persuading Manchin and Sinema to support modifications to the filibuster in order to enact voting rights legislation, Biden said he felt compelled to speak out “forcefully” on the topic.
“There are certain things that are so consequential that you have to speak from the heart as well as your head. I was speaking out forcefully on what I think to be at stake,” the president said. “You don’t get to vote this way and somehow it goes away. This will stick with you the rest of your career and long after you’re gone.”