In a blistering floor speech Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted President Joe Biden’s remarks in Atlanta on Tuesday calling for a change to the chamber’s rules in order to pass voting rights legislation, calling his rhetoric "incoherent, incorrect and beneath his office."
"I'm tired of being quiet," Biden said. “Today, I'm making it clear: To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.”
Democrats have made a major push in recent weeks to get voting rights legislation passed at the federal level amid a push in Republican-led states to restrict access to the ballot box. In the last year, 19 states have passed 34 restrictive voting measures, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice.
But McConnell, one of President Biden’s former colleagues in the Senate, branded Biden’s comments as “rhetoric unbecoming of a president of the United States.”
Invoking Biden’s inaugural address, specifically his remarks about “bringing America together, uniting our people and uniting our nation,” McConnell accused the president of delivering “a deliberately divisive speech that was designed to pull our country further apart.”
“Twelve months ago, this president said we should see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors,” McConnell said. “Yesterday, he called millions of Americans his domestic enemies. Twelve months ago, the President called on Americans to join forces, stop the shouting, lower the temperature, but yesterday, he shouted that if you disagree with him, you're George Wallace.”
“I've known, liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years,” the Kentucky Republican added. “I did not recognize the man at the podium yesterday.”
It should be noted that McConnell is no stranger to changing the rules of the Senate: In 2017, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell as majority leader, invoked the “nuclear option” to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court with a simple majority vote, after refusing to take up the nomination of President Barack Obama’s pick Merrick Garland for 11 months. McConnell called blocking Garland's nomination one of his "proudest moments" in a speech to supporters in Kentucky.
But McConnell was not the first to invoke the nuclear option in the Senate. In 2013, after Senate Republicans attempted to filibuster a number of President Obama’s nominees, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., utilized the nuclear option to confirm most presidential appointments, but not Supreme Court nominees.
“You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned at the time.
Nearly a decade later, McConnell seems to be issuing a similar warning in 2022.
"You could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than what we've just seen, a President abandoning rational persuasion for pure, pure, demagoguery," he said. "A president shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants is proving exactly why the framers built the Senate to check his power."
McConnell was likely referring to Biden's references to civil rights icons and segregationists in his remarks Tuesday.
"At consequential moments in history, they present a choice," Biden said in his speech Tuesday. "Do you want to be 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?"
McConnell said that Biden, who ran on the spirit of bipartisanship and uniting the nation after a fractious 2020 election, was "arguably" given a mandate to "bridge a divided country, lower the temperature and dial down the perpetual air of crisis in our politics."
"But President Biden has chosen to fail his own test," McConnell added.
"You could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than what we've just seen, a president abandoning rational persuasion for pure, pure, demagoguery," the Kentucky Republican said. "A president shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants is proving exactly why the framers built the Senate to check his power.
Biden's "deliberately divisive speech," McConnell added, "was designed to pull our country farther apart," calling his speech " profoundly unpresidential" and saying it is "the Senate’s responsibility to protect the country."
"This institution was constructed as a firewall against exactly this kind of rage and false hysteria," McConnell said. "It falls to the Senate to put America on a better track. It falls to us."
At the Capitol on Wednesday, when asked to respond to McConnell's remarks, President Biden said, "I like Mitch McConnell, he's a friend."