Biden to Address Voting Rights on ‘Bloody Sunday’ Anniversary in Selma

The president is expected to emphasize that securing civil rights for Black Americans includes the fight to protect ballot access.

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Biden to Address Voting Rights on ‘Bloody Sunday’ Anniversary in Selma |

President Biden has pushed for two pieces of voting-rights legislation while in office, but neither has passed.

WILMINGTON, Del. — President Biden will travel to Selma, Ala., on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of a violent attack on Black protesters by police officers, an event that electrified the civil rights movement and led to the creation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The president is expected to deliver a speech focused on voting rights even as Democrat-led efforts to protect access to the ballot have failed.

“In his remarks, President Biden will talk about the importance of commemorating Bloody Sunday so that history cannot be erased,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Friday. “He will highlight how the continued fight for voting rights is integral to delivering economic justice and civil rights for Black Americans.”

While in office, Mr. Biden has pushed for two pieces of voting-rights legislation, including one bill named for Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon and Democrat of Georgia who was among the demonstrators beaten while trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on that Sunday 58 years ago.

The bill named for Mr. Lewis, who died in 2020, would have restored a key piece of the landmark Voting Rights Act that passed in the wake of Selma. The provision relied on a formula to identify states with a history of discrimination and require that those jurisdictions clear any changes to their voting processes with the federal government. Those protections were stripped away by the Supreme Court in 2013.

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But the John Lewis Voting Rights Act failed in a Democrat-controlled Congress, and it has little chance of passing now that the House of Representatives has flipped into Republican control. The For the People Act, an overhaul of federal election laws, also failed.

The tone of Mr. Biden’s impassioned speeches has since changed; now when he speaks on the issue, his remarks have given way to something close to public acknowledgment that the fight for voting rights might go longer than he initially promised.

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“Look, I get accused of being an inveterate optimist,” the president said in a speech in January at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often preached. “Progress is never easy, but redeeming the soul of the country is absolutely essential.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a confidant of Mr. Biden who plans to join him in Selma on Sunday, said that he and other civil rights leaders had hoped that the president and Vice President Kamala Harris, who had asked to take the lead on voting rights, would have “pushed more” for the voting-rights bills. But he said the president had assured him that the Biden administration would do more to bring awareness to the issue.

“This puts the public on notice that we still don’t have a voting rights bill, and we’re still marching across a bridge named for a Ku Klux Klan member, where John Lewis spilled blood,” Mr. Sharpton said, referring to Mr. Pettus, an Alabama senator and Klan member for whom the bridge is named.

The president will be joined by Mr. Sharpton and several Black lawmakers, including Representative Terri A. Sewell, an Alabama Democrat and longtime Biden supporter.

On Sunday, Mr. Biden, who came to Selma as vice president in 2013, will also have a firsthand look at the devastation wrought by a series of deadly tornadoes that hit the area in January. Ms. Sewell said in a statement that the president had authorized an increase in federal funding to help clean up the area.

“As Selma continues to recover from the Jan. 12 storms, President Biden’s presence will send a clear message that our community is not alone,” she said.


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