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Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy

The tributes to Dole poured in from every segment of government, political, public & personal reflecting his lifelong career of public service

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U.S. Senator Bob Dole via 60 Minutes archival interview with Steve Kroft 1993 (Screenshot YouTube)

WASHINGTON – In a tweet Sunday morning the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced the death of former Kansas U.S. Senator Robert J. “Bob” Dole at the age of 98. Reaction was immediate from longtime friends, political allies of the Senator and others including President Joe Biden who served with him in the U.S. Senate.

In a statement released by the White House, the president said of his friend and former Senate colleague; “Bob was an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation. And to me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves. […] Bob was a man to be admired by Americans. He had an unerring sense of integrity and honor. May God bless him, and may our nation draw upon his legacy of decency, dignity, good humor, and patriotism for all time.”

The tributes to Dole that poured in Sunday from every segment of government, political, public and personal reflected his lifelong career of public service to Americans including his championing the rights of disabled Americans playing a key role in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Dole himself was disabled, having been grievously wounded in combat while serving in the U.S. Army in the Italian campaign during World War Two.

Dole earned two Purple Hearts and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service, but doctors weren’t sure he’d survive. He was hospitalized for three years. He suffered infections, grueling therapy, several operations and in one instance developed a blood clot that nearly killed him.

He spent the rest of his life struggling with disabilities caused by his war injuries, most noticeably loss of the use of his right arm.

After his recovery and convalescence he enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson on the GI Bill, and later transferred to Washburn University in his home state of Kansas. He graduated in 1952.

After college and while still in law school, Dole became active in local politics in his hometown of Russell, Kansas. In his first run for elected office he won a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. He served from 1951 to 1953 until he ran and was elected Russell County Attorney. He remained in that position until 1961, when he was first elected to the U.S. Congress as a Republican.

In what he later said publicly were the two most important votes while serving in Congress, in1964 he voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act.

During the turbulent era of the 1960’s marked by the Civil Rights movement and opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict, Dole ran for the United States Senate in 1969 and was was elected after defeating his fellow Republican, former Kansas Gov. Bill Avery in the primary race.

From January 3, 1969 until his departure from the Senate on June 11, 1996, Dole built a career that established his place as a power broker and deal maker in Republican politics with considerable influence across both parties garnering the respect of Democratic leaders including the late Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

In the early 1970s, Dole served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971 to 1973 including during the 1972 election and Watergate break-in and he resided at the Watergate apartments at the time of the break-in.

An ardent supporter of then-President Richard Nixon, Dole stood by him during the Watergate scandal often clashing with other Republicans leaders who ultimately convinced Nixon to resign the office. In later years Dole still praised Nixon’s record as president, serving as a eulogist at the former president’s state funeral in 1994.

In a commentary for Politico magazine on April 27, 2017, Dole wrote; “I can say with confidence that the beginning of the 21st century is still the Age of Nixon; we’re still living in a world he played a role in shaping. Though our country has changed in many ways in the 43 years since Nixon’s resignation and 23 years since his death, the basic domestic policies and international order that he brought to fruition remain in place.”

While Dole was often seen as a moderate by some, in practice he was a hard nosed partisan Republican sometimes echoing Nixon’s attack impulses. In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford selected him as his running mate at the Republican National Convention.

During the Ford-Dole campaign run he blamed the deaths and injuries of 1.7 million American soldiers on “Democrat wars,” and derided the Democratic Party challenger, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter as no more than a “Southern-fried McGovern.”

“I figured up the other day, if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit,” Dole said.

In a bit of political irony, he had partnered with Democratic South Dakota U.S. Senator George McGovern, who Nixon defeated in a landslide election in 1972, to help pass legislation making food stamps more accessible.

In 1980 he made a run for the White House on his own, ultimately deciding to withdraw after a poor showing in the Republican primary in New Hampshire against former California Governor Ronald Reagan. Dole was re-elected to his third term as Senator that year.

Dole went on to serve as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1981 to 1985, and in November of 1984, he was elected Senate Majority leader. He then made another attempt for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, during that campaign his reputation as a political hardliner was cemented during an interview with then-NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.

Dole exploded in apparent anger over a question posed about a television advert being run by the campaign of then Vice-President George H.W. Bush, his Republican challenger for the nomination, that accused Dole of “straddling” on taxes. He snapped at Brokaw, saying Bush should “stop lying about my record.” He beat Bush in Iowa, but fell short again in New Hampshire and again he withdrew from the race.

During that campaign, the New York Times reported Dole strongly disagreed with U.S. Representative Jack F. Kemp, R-Ny., on AIDS testing and urged that the issue of AIDS be kept out of the 1988 Presidential race.

”To try to make this a Democratic or Republican issue is a loser,” said Dole. ”It’s a loser for the people involved, and it’s a loser for the people we’re trying to protect.”

On February 22, 1989, during the session of the 101st Congress, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. It had previously been introduced in the 99th and 100th Congresses. The act would require the U.S. Department of Justice to collect and publish data about crimes motivated by hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Then on June 27, 1989, the  House passed the Act by a 368-47 vote. It moved on to the Senate where as the then-Senate Minority Leader, Dole signed on as a co-sponsor.

On February 8, 1990,  the Senate passed the Act by a 92-4 vote and sent it to President George H.W. Bush who signed the bill into law on April 23, 1990.

The 1994 mid-term elections gave Republicans control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, mainly due to the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s policies and Dole became the Senate Majority Leader for a second time.

Dole again decided to make another run for the presidency in 1995 and it was in the lead-in to that campaign his anti-LGBTQ positions on military service by gay and lesbians and same-sex marriage became clear.

In the Fall of 1995, Dole returned a $1,000 dollar campaign contribution from the Log Cabin Club, a pro-gay Republican organization that is now known as Log Cabin Republicans. That caused Congress’ only openly gay Republican member, Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wi., to castigate Dole publicly in a letter that read; “One need not be anti-gay just to prove you are pro-family,” Gunderson wrote. “I know of no gay Republican (and frankly few gay Democrats) who seek any special class or privileges. All we seek is the end to blatant discrimination in America.”

Dole’s campaign returned the money, saying the Republican presidential contender was “100 percent” opposed to the Log Cabin Club’s agenda.

Gunderson, in his letter, also noted he had supported Dole’s past presidential efforts and had endorsed him before being asked. When first told of the donation controversy, Gunderson said he assumed his friends had mistaken Dole’s campaign for that of “other decidedly bigoted candidates. I was embarrassed to learn I was wrong,” he said.

Gunderson questioned whether Dole would reject the support of anyone who was gay. “If this is so, do you intend to now reject my support and request those on your staff who happen to be gay to resign?”

Eight months later in early May of 1996, in an effort to shore up support of his campaign from the Christian conservative movement within the Republican party, Dole signed on as the first co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Defense of Marriage Act. The legislation barred federal benefits for same-sex couples while allowing states the right to refuse recognition of such marriages that are recognized in other states.

In no small bit of irony one of the responses to Dole’s actions came from the Log Cabin Republicans. “The intolerant wing of the Republican Party is rearing it’s ugly head again,” said Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. “What Dole is missing here is that he already has deep support among religious conservatives. There is a growing perception of the GOP Congress as intolerant, and Dole’s action yesterday only enhances such a view.”

Dole’s position on same-sex marriage was later derided by the Human Rights Campaign in an advert campaign, run only in the San Diego market during the GOP convention, that took aim at prominent Republicans who opposed same-sex marriages, but whose own marriages were not always accepted by mainstream society.

The HRC ads called out presidential nominee Dole and other Republicans for “wasting our time” and “trying to score political points by attacking gay Americans.”

One spot featured pictures of Dole with Elizabeth, his second wife, and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm with his Asian-American wife, Wendy. The ad notes that divorced people and couples of different ethnicities have not always been accepted wholly by society.

In the discussions and the political back and forth leading up to what ultimately became the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military, colloquially referred to as “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell,” “serving is not a right,” Dole said. “It is a privilege in the United States. And there are certain restrictions.”

Dole, who had resigned from the Senate on June 11, 1996 to run his presidential campaign lost that Fall. President Clinton who was an incumbent, won in a 379–159 Electoral College landslide, capturing 49.2% of the vote against Dole’s 40.7% and Ross Perot’s 8.4%.

Dole at age 73 was the last World War II veteran to have been the presidential nominee of a major party. In 1997, months after losing the election Dole was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton.

“Through it, we honor not just his individual achievement but his clear embodiment in the common values and beliefs that join us as a people,” Clinton said. “Values and beliefs that he has spent his life advancing. Sen. Dole, a grateful nation presents this award, with respect for the example you have set for Americans today and for Americans and generations yet to come.”

In the years that followed his political career Dole served as national chairman of the World War II Memorial raising funds for its construction. He was a popular spokesperson for Viagra, Visa, Dunkin’ Donuts and along with pop singer, Britney Spears, Pepsi-Cola. He continued to speak out for disabled Americans, and also established The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, housed on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas.

In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed him to help lead a bipartisan commission to investigate a neglect scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Then alongside his wife Elizabeth Dole, in 2012, established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which is designed to empower, support and honor the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers.

Despite his many accomplishments, in 2014 he still attacked the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans to be married. Dole suggested that fellow Republican, Ohio U.S. Senator Rob Portman didn’t support ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because Portman, who had a gay son, had come out in favor of gay marriage, the Daily Beast and other media outlets reported in July of 2014.

Dole also supported former President Donald Trump and endorsed Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. In an interview with USA Today conducted for his 98th birthday, Dole said he was “Trumped out”, and that Trump had lost the 2020 election despite his claims to the contrary. “He lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did”, Dole stated, adding that Trump “never had one bit of fraud in all those lawsuits he filed and statements he made.”

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60 Minutes Archive: Bob Dole (Steve Kroft, 1993)

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GOP VA AG-elect fires dozens of lawyers including in Civil Rights Division

Miyares campaigned promising to refuse to allow coronavirus mitigation including masks & vaccine requirements, despite the surging pandemic

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Virginia’s Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares (Screenshot via Fox News)

By David Badash | RICHMOND – He has yet to be sworn in but Virginia’s Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares has already fired dozens of lawyers, including those working in the Office of Civil Rights, and including those who are not political appointees but career civil servants.

Miyares campaigned on enforcing the law while promising to refuse to allow coronavirus mitigation efforts including masks and vaccine requirements, despite the surging pandemic.

But enforcing the law – certainly specific aspects like civil rights – will be much harder when he is sworn into office on Saturday.

“I’ve been told incoming AG @JasonMiyaresVA just FIRED the entire civil rights division in the Attorney General’s office,” tweeted Virginia Democratic state Senator L. Louise Lucas, the President Pro tempore. “My bill helped create and expand the authority that this division uses.”

“This whole campaign we had to listen to @JasonMiyaresVA whining about local prosecutors choosing not to prosecute certain crimes- then he gets elected and eliminates an entire division dedicated to enforcing civil rights law. Total hypocrisy and it needs to be SEEN,” she added.

It’s unclear if Miyares has fired the entire civil rights division but the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports he has fired 30 attorneys including “Helen Hardiman, an assistant attorney general who focuses on investigating and litigating against housing discrimination in the Office of Civil Rights.”

“I am not a political appointee. I don’t have a political job,” she says, adding she has 20 cases that are in court or going to trial.

“I don’t want those people who have been discriminated against to be left hanging,” Hardiman said. “I also felt like a cursory email with 24 hour notice was unprofessional. And I’m disappointed that the new administration seems to be signaling that they care less about civil rights issues like fair housing than the current administration.”

On his Twitter page Miyares posted numerous platitudes and promises like, “My oath of allegiance is to follow the law, to respect the code of Virginia, and the people of Virginia As AG, I am going to go back to calling balls and strikes and we are going to enforce the law.”

He also posted tweets attacking coronavirus mitigation policies, saying, “no Virginian should be forced to choose between their job and the vaccine.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The New Civil Rights Movement and is republished with permission.

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California Politics

Newsom highlights blueprint investments in infrastructure & transportation

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than 50% of emissions

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Governor Newsom speaks at Santa Clara Depot which serves Caltrain, the Altamont Corridor Express, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Amtrak (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SANTA CLARA – Governor Gavin Newsom Thursday touted his California Blueprint’s major investments in transportation and infrastructure while visiting the Santa Clara Depot rail station, highlighting the plan’s $9.1 billion in funding for climate-friendly clean transit projects that will create thousands of jobs.

The Blueprint also includes $2.3 billion to support ports and goods movement throughout the state and an additional $6.1 billion to accelerate the state’s transition to zero-emission vehicles – creating a total package of $10 billion that will invest in affordable cars, clean trucks and buses. The Santa Clara Depot serves several transit agencies, including Caltrain, which is scheduled to complete electrification of its system in 2024. 

“These bold investments will deliver safer, faster and greener transportation options connecting communities across the state while creating thousands of jobs and tackling our largest source of harmful pollution and emissions,” said Governor Newsom. “With California on the frontlines of the intensifying climate crisis, the state is committed to building a clean transportation future that protects the health of our communities, environment and economy.”

Transportation is the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than 50% of emissions when considering the production and deployment of fuels. California’s commitment to decarbonizing the transportation sector also advances the state’s affordability goals, increasing access to opportunity and amenities through a network of affordable, clean transportation options and pushing zero-emission vehicle innovation to continue driving down costs for everyone.  

The California Blueprint includes a proposed $9.1 billion package to advance clean transit initiatives that support the state’s climate and public health goals, promote equity and bolster the green economy, including $4.9 billion for transit and rail projects to improve connectivity, climate adaptation, bicycle and pedestrian safety and more locally driven initiatives. In addition, the Blueprint proposes a $4.2 billion investment in California’s High-Speed Rail project, which will eventually share the electrified Caltrain corridor, as well as funding for projects that encourage active modes of transportation and improve equity and safety, including converting underutilized highways into corridors that better serve residents. The Blueprint positions California to take advantage of additional federal infrastructure investments.

The California Blueprint also furthers the Administration’s ongoing work to support ports and build supply chain resilience, outlining a $2.3 billion package that includes $1.2 billion for port-related infrastructure projects that increase goods movement capacity and additional funding for zero-emission port equipment, drayage trucks and infrastructure. The Governor in October issued an executive order directing state agencies to help identify additional ways to alleviate congestion at California ports and announced a state-federal partnership to help kick-start infrastructure projects designed to improve goods movement. In addition, the Governor has launched a multi-agency Supply Chain Task Force working to find opportunities to lease state and privately-owned land for container storage space, Caltrans has issued temporary truck weight exemptions on State Highways to keep goods moving efficiently and the Department of Motor Vehicles has worked to nearly double its capacity to conduct commercial driving tests.

The Blueprint also builds on the California Comeback Plan’s $3.9 billion zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) package with an additional $6.1 billion in proposed investment to accelerate the transition. The additional funding will add thousands of affordable clean cars, zero-emission trucks and transit buses, support school transportation programs and electrify our school bus fleet, expand equitable access to ZEV charging infrastructure and fund equity-focused clean transportation community projects.

Governor Newsom in 2020 made a commitment to require that sales of all new passenger vehicles be zero-emission by 2035 and aggressively decarbonize heavy-duty vehicles such as trains, trucks and buses. The state has targeted emissions from the heavy-duty sector with bold action to reduce pollution in disproportionately impacted communities.

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Politics

President Biden oks change to filibuster for voting rights

Biden and the Vice-President Kamala Harris address the urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote

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President Biden and Vice President Harris deliver voting rights speech in Atlanta via NBC News YouTube

ATLANTA – President Biden, after paying tribute to civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by leaving a wreath on his grave, brought the strength of his presidency to bear in a speech Tuesday in an effort to reform U.S. Senate rules to enact voting rights legislation.

“I’m making it clear, to protect our democracy, I support changing Senate rules whichever way they need to changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking basic voting rights,” Biden said.

Biden has indicated before he supports changes to longstanding rules the Senate requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster and proceed with debate on legislation, but the speech marks an elevation of viewpoint in a more formal way and increases the pressure on fellow Democrats like Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who oppose such a change.

Based on his words, Biden’s position on filibuster reform appears limited to voting rights legislation, which like so much other legislation has passed in the House and has stalled out in the Senate. The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the White House seeking comment on why, if Biden supports changing the filibuster for voting rights, why hasn’t he made the case for other issues, such as police reform or LGBTQ civil rights.

A major reason cited by Biden to bring the force of his presidency down on this issue: The attack on U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 instigated by President Trump, who falsely claimed he won the 2020 election against Biden.

Biden conjured images of the long road in the civil rights journey in the United States and a “violet riot” at the Capitol that Biden said undermined the process.

The recently enacted voter law in Georgia, which makes mail-in voting illegal, limits hours and locations for ballot drop boxes and bars the delivery of food and water to persons waiting in line to vote, was another major focus for Biden, who pointed out Republican lawmakers in Georgia put it in place after he won the state in 2020 and Trump pressured officials there to find more votes for him.

As a result, Biden said the “threat to democracy is so grave” he supports changes to the filibuster, which came about in use in the Senate from senators seeking to block civili rights legislation.

“If that bare minimum is blocked, we have no choice but change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this,” Biden said.

Biden identified two bills in his speech: the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which seeks to rectify a U.S. Supreme Court decision undermining the Voting Rights Act and the Freedom of the Vote Act, which would dramatically reform voting process, including the expansion of voting by mail and early voting.

Joining Biden in Atlanta in favor of changing rules to advance voting rights was Vice President Kamala Harris, who said “nowhere — nowhere — does the Constitution give a minority the right to unilaterally block legislation.”

“Over the past few years, we have seen so many anti-voter laws, that there is a danger of becoming accustomed to these laws, a danger of adjusting to these laws as though they are normal, a danger of becoming complacent, complicit,” Harris said. “Anti-voter laws are not new in our nation, but we must not be deceived into thinking they are normal.”

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President Biden and Vice President Harris deliver voting rights speech in Atlanta: 

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Full text of the president’s remarks:

In our lives and the lives of our nation — the life of our nation, there are moments so stark that they divide all that came before from everything that followed.  They stop time.  They rip away the trivial from the essential.  And they force us to confront hard truths about ourselves, about our institutions, and about our democracy.

In the words of Scripture, they remind us to “hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate.”

Last week, [Vice] President Harris and I stood in the United States Capitol to observe one of those “before and after” moments in American history: January 6th insurrection on the citadel of our democracy.

Today, we come to Atlanta — the cradle of civil rights — to make clear what must come after that dreadful day when a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy.

We stand on the grounds that connect Clark Atlanta — Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and near Spelman College — the home of generations of advocates, activists, educators and preachers; young people, just like the students here, who have done so much to build a better America. 

We visited the sacred Ebenezer Baptist Church and paused to prayed at the crypt of Dr. and Mrs. King, and spent time with their family.  And here in the district — as was pointed out — represented and reflected the life of beloved friend, John Lewis.

In their lifetimes, time stopped when a bomb blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and murdered four little girls.

They [Time] stopped when John and many others seeking justice were beaten and bloodied while crossing the bridge at Selma named after the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

They stopped — time stopped, and they forced the country to confront the hard truths and to act — to act to keep the promise of America alive: the promise that holds that we’re all created equal but, more importantly, deserve to be treated equally.  And from those moments of darkness and despair came light and hope.

Democrats, Republicans, and independents worked to pass the historic Civil Rights Act and the voting rights legislation.  And each successive generation continued that ongoing work.

But then the violent mob of January 6th, 2021, empowered and encouraged by a defeated former president, sought to win through violence what he had lost at the ballot box, to impose the will of the mob, to overturn a free and fair election, and, for the first time — the first time in American history, they — to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

They failed.  They failed.  (Applause.)  But democracy’s — but democracy’s visi- — victory was not certain, nor is democracy’s future.

That’s why we’re here today to stand against the forces in America that value power over principle, forces that attempted a coup — a coup against the legally expressed will of the American people — by sowing doubt, inventing charges of fraud, and seeking to steal the 2020 election from the people.

They want chaos to reign.  We want the people to rule. 

But let me be clear: This is not about me or Vice President Harris or our party; it’s about all of us.  It’s about the people.  It’s about America.

Hear me plainly: The battle for the soul of America is not over.  We must stand strong and stand together to make sure January 6th marks not the end of democracy but the beginning of a renaissance of our democracy. 

You know, for the right to vote and to have that vote counted is democracy’s threshold liberty.  Without it, nothing is possible, but with it, anything is possible.

But while the denial of fair and free elections is un-democratic, it is not unprecedented.

Black Americans were denied full citizenship and voting rights until 1965.  Women were denied the right to vote until just 100 years ago.  The United States Supreme Court, in recent years, has weakened the Voting Rights Act.  And now the defeated former president and his supporters use the Big Lie about the 2020 election to fuel torrent and torment and anti-voting laws — new laws designed to suppress your vote, to subvert our elections.

Here in Georgia, for years, you’ve done the hard work of democracy: registering voters, educating voters, getting voters to the polls.  You’ve built a broad coalition of voters: Black, white, Latino, Asian American, urban, suburban, rural, working class, and middle class. 

And it’s worked: You’ve changed the state by bringing more people, legally, to the polls.  That’s how you won the historic elections of Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff. 

You did it — you did it the right way, the democratic way.

And what’s been the reaction of Republicans in Georgia?  Choose the wrong way, the undemocratic way.  To them, too many people voting in a democracy is a problem.  So they’re putting up obstacles.

For example, voting by mail is a safe and convenient way to get more people to vote, so they’re making it harder for you to vote by mail. 

The same way, I might add, in the 2020 Election, President Trump voted from behind the desk in the White House — in Florida. 

Dropping your ballots off to secure drop boxes — it’s safe, it’s convenient, and you get more people to vote.  So they’re limiting the number of drop boxes and the hours you can use them. 

Taking away the options has a predictable effect: longer lines at the polls, lines that can last for hours.  You’ve seen it with your own eyes.  People get tired and they get hungry.

When the Bible teaches us to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, the new Georgia law actually makes it illegal — think of this — I mean, it’s 2020, and now ’22, going into that election — it makes it illegal to bring your neighbors, your fellow voters food or water while they wait in line to vote.  What in the hell — heck are we talking about?

I mean, think about it.  (Applause.)  That’s not America.  That’s what it looks like when they suppress the right to vote. 

And here’s how they plan to subvert the election: The Georgia Republican Party, the state legislature has now given itself the power to make it easier for partisan actors — their cronies — to remove local election officials. 

Think about that.  What happened in the last election?  The former president and allies pursued, threatened, and intimidated state and local election officials.

Election workers — ordinary citizens — were subject to death threats, menacing phone calls, people stalking them in their homes.

Remember what the defeated former president said to the highest-ranking election official — a Republican — in this state?  He said, quote, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.” 

Pray God. He didn’t say that part. 

He didn’t say, “Count the votes.”  He said, “find votes” that he needed to win.

He failed because of the courageous officials — Democrats, Republicans — who did their duty and upheld the law. 

But with this new law in Georgia, his loyal- — his loyalists will be placed in charge of state elections. What is that going to mean?  Well, the chances for chaos and subversion are even greater as partisans seek the result they want — no matter what the voters have said, no matter what the count.  The votes of nearly 5 million Georgians will be up for grabs if that law holds.

It’s not just here in Georgia.  Last year alone, 19 states not proposed but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights.  There were nearly 400 additional bills Republican members of state legislatures tried to pass.  And now, Republican legislators in several states have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year.

Their endgame?  To turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion — 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. 

Look, this matters to all of us.  The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them.  Simple as that.  The facts won’t matter; your vote won’t matter.  They’ll just decide what they want and then do it.

That’s the kind of power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies. 

We must be vigilant.

And the world is watching.  I know the majority of the world leaders — the good and the bad ones, adversaries and allies alike.  They’re watching American democracy and seeing whether we can meet this moment.  And that’s not hyperbole.

When I showed up at the G7 with seven other world leaders — there were a total of nine present — Vice President Harris and I have spent our careers doing this work — I said, “America is back.”  And the response was, “For how long?”  “For how long?” 

As someone who’s worked in foreign policy my whole life, I never thought I would ever hear our allies say something like that.

Over the past year, we’ve directed federal agencies to promote access to voting, led by the Vice President.  We’ve appointed top civil rights advocates to help the U.S. Department of Justice, which has doubled its voting rights enforcement staff.

And today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge: Pass the Freedom to Vote Act.  Pass it now — which would prevent voter suppression so that here in Georgia there’s full access to voting by mail, there are enough drop boxes during enough hours so that you can bring food and water as well to people waiting in line. 

The Freedom to Vote Act takes on election subversion to protect nonpartisan electors [election] officials, who are doing their job, from intimidation and interference.

It would get dark money out of politics, create fairer district maps and ending partisan gerrymandering. 

Look, it’s also time to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

I’ve been having these quiet conversations with the members of Congress for the last two months.  I’m tired of being quiet! 

Folks, it’ll restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act of ’65 — the one President Johnson signed after John Lewis was beaten, nearly killed on Bloody Sunday, only to have the Supreme Court weaken it multiple times over the past decade.

Restoring the Voting Rights Act would mean the Justice Department can stop discriminatory laws before they go into effect — before they go into effect.  
The Vice President and I have supported voting rights bills since day one of this administration.  But each and every time, Senate Republicans have blocked the way.  Republicans oppose even debating the issue.  You hear me?

I’ve been around the Senate a long time.  I was Vice President for eight years.  I’ve never seen a circumstance where not one single Republican has a voice that’s ready to speak for justice now.

When I was a senator, including when I headed up the Judiciary Committee, I helped reauthorize the Voting [Rights] Act three times.  We held hearings.  We debated.  We voted.  I was able to extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years.

In 2006, the Voting Rights Act passed 390 to 33 in
the House of Representatives and 98 to 0 in the Senate with votes from 16 current sitting Republicans in this United States Senate.  Sixteen of them voted to extend it.

The last year I was chairman, as some of my friends sitting down here will tell you, Strom Thurmond voted to extend the Voting Rights Act.  Strom Thurmond.

But, folks, then it was signed into law, the last time, by President George W. Bush.

You know, when we got voting rights extended in the 1980s, as I’ve said, even Thurmond supported it.  Think about that.  The man who led the longest filibu- — one of the longest filibusters in history in the United States Senate in 1957 against the Voting Rights Act [Civil Rights Act].  The man who led and sided with the old Southern Bulls in the United States Senate to perpetuate segregation in this nation.  Even Strom Thurmond came to support voting rights.

But Republicans today can’t and won’t.  Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote.  Not one.  Not one.

We have 50-50 in the United States Senate.  That means we have 51 presidents.  (Laughter.)  You all think I’m kidding. 

I’ve been pretty good at working with senators my whole career.  But, man, when you got 51 presidents, it gets harder.  Any one can change the outcome.

Sadly, the United States Senate — designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body — has been rendered a shell of its former self.  It gives me no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate.

But as an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to
our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote. 

Let the majority prevail.  And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.

You know, last year, if I’m not mistaken, the filibuster was used 154 times.  The filibuster has been used to generate compromise in the past and promote some bipartisanship.  But it’s also been used to obstruct — including and especially obstruct civil rights and voting rights.

And when it was used, senators traditionally used to have to stand and speak at their desks for however long it took, and sometimes it took hours.  And when they sat down, if no one immediately stood up, anyone could call for a vote or the debate ended.

But that doesn’t happen today.  Senators no longer even have to speak one word.  The filibuster is not used by Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart.

The filibuster has been weaponized and abused.

While the state legislatures’ assault on voting rights is simple — all you need in your House and Senate is a pure majority — in the United States Senate, it takes a supermajority: 60 votes, even to get a vote — instead of 50 — to protect the right to vote.

State legislatures can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities.  If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority. 

Today I’m making it clear: To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed — (applause) — to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights. 

When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate.  

I make this announcement with careful deliberation, recognizing the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow.

And I make it with an appeal to my Republican colleagues, to those Republicans who believe in the rule of law: Restore the bipartisan tradition of voting rights. 

The people who restored it, who abided by it in the past were Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush.  They all supported the Voting Rights Act.

Don’t let the Republican Party morph into something else.  Restore the institution of the Senate the way it was designed to be.

Senate rules were just changed to raise the debt ceiling so we wouldn’t renege on our debt for the first time in our history and prevent an economic crisis.  That was done by a simple majority.

As Senator Warnock said a few weeks ago in a powerful speech: If we change the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, we should be able to change the rules to protect the heart and soul of our democracy.  He was right.

In the days that followed John Lewis’s death, there was an outpouring of praise and support across the political spectrum.

But as we stand here today, it isn’t enough just to praise his memory.  We must translate eulogy into action.  We need to follow John Lewis’s footsteps.  We need to support the bill in his name.

Just a few days ago, we talked about — up in the Congress and in the White House — the event coming up shortly to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  And Americans of all stripes will praise him for the content of his character.

But as Dr. King’s family said before, it’s not enough to praise their father.  They even said: On this holiday, don’t celebrate his birthday unless you’re willing to support what he lived for and what he died for.  The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation’s history.

We will choose — the issue is: Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadows, justice over injustice? 

I know where I stand.  I will not yield.  I will not flinch.  I will defend the right to vote, our democracy against all enemies — foreign and, yes, domestic. 

And the question is: Where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?  Every senator — Democrat, Republican, and independent — will have to declare where they stand, not just for the moment, but for the ages.

Will you stand against voter suppression?  Yes or no?  That’s the question they’ll answer.  Will you stand against election subversion?  Yes or no?  Will you stand for democracy?  Yes or no?

And here’s one thing every senator and every American should remember: History has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights.  And it will be even less kind for those who side with election subversion.

So, 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 the si- — 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?

This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy. 

And if you do that, you will not be alone.  That’s because the struggle to protect voting rights has never been borne by one group alone.

We saw Freedom Riders of every race.  Leaders of every faith marching arm in arm.  And, yes, Democrats and Republicans in Congress of the United States and in the presidency.

I did not live the struggle of Douglass, Tubman, King, Lewis, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, and countless others — known and unknown.

I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds.  But I walked other grounds.  Because I’m so damn old, I was there as well. 

You think I’m kidding, man. It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested.  Anyway —

But their struggles here — they were the ones that opened my eyes as a high school student in the late — in the late ’50s and early ’60s.  They got me more engaged in the work of my life.

And what we’re talking about today is rooted in the very idea of America — the idea that Annell Ponder, who graduated from Clark Atlanta, captured in a single word.  She was a teacher and librarian who was also an unyielding champion of voting rights.

In 1963 — when I was just starting college at university — after registering voters in Mississippi, she was pulled off a bus, arrested, and jailed, where she was brutally beaten.

In her cell, next to her, was Fannie Lou Hamer, who described the beating this way, and I quote: “I could hear the sounds of [the] licks and [the] horrible screams…They beat her, I don’t know [for] how long.  And after a while, she began to pray, and asked God to have mercy on those people.”

Annell Ponder’s friends visited her the next day.  Her face was badly swollen.  She could hardly talk.

But she managed to whi- — whisper one word: “Freedom.”  “Freedom” — the only word she whispered.

After nearly 250 years since our founding, that singular idea still echoes.  But it’s up to all of us to make sure it never fades, especially the students here — your generation that just started voting — as there are those who are trying to take away that vi- — vote you just started to be able to exercise. 

But the giants we honor today were your age when they made clear who we must be as a nation.  Not a joke.  Think about it.  In the early ’60s, they were sitting where you’re sitting.  They were you.  And like them, you give me much hope for the future.

Before and after in our lives — and in the life of the nation — democracy is who we are, who we must be — now and forever.  So, let’s stand in this breach together.  Let’s love good, establish justice in the gate. 

And remember, as I said, there is one — this is one of those defining moments in American history: Each of those who vote will be remembered by class after class, in the ’50s and ’60s — the 2050s and ’60s.  Each one of the members of the Senate is going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote and where they stood after the vote. 

There’s no escape.  So, let’s get back to work. 

As my fath- — my grandfather Finnegan used to say every time I walked out the door in Scranton, he’d say, “Joey, keep the faith.”  Then he’d say, “No, Joey, spread it.” 

Let’s spread the faith and get this done. 

May God bless you all.  And may God protect the sacred right to vote. Thank you.  I mean it.  Let’s go get this done.  Thank you. 

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