For the second year in a row, Vice President Joe Biden used his remarks at his Black History Month reception to emphasize that the fight for voting rights didn’t end during the civil rights movement and to lament that fair access to the ballot remains an unsettled political issue.
“The zealotry of those who wish to limit the franchise can’t be smothered by reason,” he said to a crowd gathered at the Naval Observatory Tuesday evening.
Biden reflected upon watching the civil rights movement unfold from a distance as he was growing up, and insisted that the battles fought by Rep. John Lewis and others who participated in the March on Selma—which he called a pivotal moment that prompted Lyndon Johnson to support the Voting Rights Act—were still unfinished.
He described his votes to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act as some of the votes of which he is proudest as a senator. Recalling the 1982 reauthorization, which he noted had Ronald Reagan’s support and Strom Thurmond’s vote, he said, “I thought it was done—finally, finally done,” pounding the podium with his fist. But he went on to express his frustration with last year’s Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision overturning parts of the VRA, quoting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent comparing the ruling to throwing out an umbrella.
“There’s a rainstorm,” Biden said of contemporary threats to voting rights.
He specifically pointed to restrictive voting legislation in North Carolina, Alabama and Texas. About those people responsible for additional identification requirements that make it more difficult to cast a vote, he said, “These guys never go away. Hatred never, never goes away,”
The remarks echoed the ones Biden made last year, when, just after the oral arguments in Shelby, he said couldn’t believe he was reliving a civil rights battle. “I never thought we’d have to refight so many fights,” he said at a 2013 reception.
Tuesday’s crowd included Michigan Rep. John Conyers, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, AFSCME president Lee Saunders, Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin and National Black Caucus of State Legislators President Joe Armstrong.
Biden cited the commitment of both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to voting rights, and expressed optimism that Congress would pass legislation to address the overturned parts of the VRA to stop what he called “this kind of malarkey.”
“I don’t think anyone should walk out of here thinking we don’t have a whole lot of work to do on voter access,” he said. “This fight has been too long, this fight has been too hard, to do anything other than win—not on the margins, but flat-out win.”