Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Tuesday accused President Joe Biden of going down “the same tragic road” as former President Donald Trump following Biden’s call for the Senate to eliminate the filibuster in order to protect voting rights.
In a speech defending the rule, Romney, an outspoken Trump critic and the only member of his party who twice voted to convict the former president in his impeachment trials, criticized Biden, who earlier on Tuesday said that some Republicans want to “turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion.”
“And so, President Biden goes down the same tragic road taken by President Trump — casting doubt on the reliability of American elections,” Romney said on the Senate floor.
“This is a sad, sad day. I expected more of President Biden, who came into office with the stated goal of bringing the country together,” he added.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki scoffed at the comparison on Wednesday.
“With all due respect to Senator Romney, I think anyone would know there’s a night and day difference between fomenting an insurrection with lies totally debunked by 80 judges — including Trump-appointed ones — and making objective true statements, which is what the president did yesterday, about a coordinated nationwide effort to undermine the constitutional right to vote,” she said.
Biden was addressing the wave of new laws enacted by Republican-held state legislatures in the past year that will make voting harder, linking them to Trump’s own efforts to overturn the 2020 election — and potentially future elections — by working to “disenfranchise anyone who votes against them.”
“Their end game: to turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion,” Biden said in Atlanta on Tuesday. “Something states can respect or ignore. Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion. It’s no longer about who gets to vote. It’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all. It’s not hyperbole. This is a fact.”
No president has attacked the integrity of U.S. elections like Trump, who has yet to concede that he lost the 2020 election and continues to make false claims of widespread voter fraud. He and his allies have urged state officials to overturn election results and endorsed wild schemes to overturn the 2020 election in Congress, leading to a siege on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021.
While Biden sought to link modern-day Democratic efforts to protect and expand voting rights to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s — he visited Martin Luther King Jr.’s crypt before delivering the address — Republicans tried to portray it as little more than a partisan screed.
“The president’s rant, rant, yesterday was incoherent, incorrect and beneath his office,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, deploying the word “rant” twice for emphasis. McConnell said Biden was failing his self-stated goal of turning down the nation’s political temperature, and said Biden was declaring that “52 senators and millions of Americans are racist.”
Psaki said GOP efforts to portray the speech as “offensive” were “hilarious on many levels, given how many people sat silently over the past four years for the former president.”
“In the president’s view, what is far more offensive is the effort to suppress people’s basic rights to support who they want to support and elect who they want to elect,” she said.
Biden, as usual, was more diplomatic when reporters asked him about McConnell’s comments: “I like Mitch McConnell. He’s a friend,” Biden said.
Democrats and election experts worry the Trump wing of the Republican Party is actively laying the groundwork to succeed in 2024 where he failed in 2020, by reversing or calling into question elections in the states before the results can even be certified in Congress.
The Senate is set to vote on two pieces of voting rights legislation this week that are designed to address the issue, but they face nearly unanimous Republican opposition in Congress. Democrats want to unilaterally change Senate rules to pass the bills into law by lowering the threshold for voting legislation to 51 votes, but moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) oppose that move, saying that any rule changes ought to be bipartisan.
Romney defended the filibuster as an important tool for the minority on Tuesday, warning that Democrats may come to regret eliminating it if Trump comes back to power. Many progressives who previously supported the filibuster now argue that doing away with it would benefit their causes far more than those of conservatives and that it’s a risk worth taking.
“There is also a reasonable chance Republicans will win both houses in Congress, and that Donald Trump himself could once again be elected president in 2024,” Romney said. “Have Democrats thought what it would mean for them — for the Democrat minority — to have no power whatsoever?”