President Biden said Friday that the “battle is not over” in his push for voting rights legislation even though little progress has been made on Capitol Hill.
“We’re going to keep up the fight until we get it done,” he told the audience during his commencement speech at South Carolina State University, a historically Black school.
Biden did not say whether he favored changing filibuster rules to push forward the legislation with only Democratic lawmakers, but he blasted Republicans for changing voting rules at the state level.
“This new sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion is un-American,” he said. “And sadly it’s unprecedented since Reconstruction,” he added, referring to laws enacted to restrict Black Americans from voting after a brief period of inclusion immediately after the Civil War.
Biden lingered on threats to democracy during his speech and said world leaders often bring up the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol in his conversations with them.
“You know what they all ask me? ‘Is America going to be all right? What about democracy in America?’” Biden said. “Did you ever think you would be asked that question by another leader?”
Biden said you can defeat hate, but “you can’t eliminate it, it just slides back under the rock. And when given oxygen by political leaders, it comes out as ugly and mean as it was before.”
“We can’t give it any oxygen. We have to step on it. We have to respond to it,” he added.
Biden was introduced by Rep. James Clyburn, an influential Democrat who graduated from South Carolina State. Clyburn helped Biden salvage his candidacy in last year’s primary, and the South Carolina lawmaker recalled his wife’s words to him before her death in 2019: “If we want to succeed in this upcoming election, we had better nominate Joe Biden.”
“What she said to me that night stayed in my mind,” he said. “I followed her directions just I had for the 58 years that we were married.”
Clyburn’s endorsement would become key in turning the tide for Biden’s candidacy.
Clyburn never participated in a graduation ceremony when he received his degree six decades ago, and he had an idea when he was invited back for this year’s ceremony.
“I think it would be great to get my degree from the president of the United States, Joe Biden,” he recalled telling Cedric Richmond, a former congressman who now works in the White House.
Biden agreed to deliver the commencement speech, which took place in a campus auditorium.
“I see HBCU excellence every single day in my administration,” he said. Vice President Kamala Harris, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and Richmond all graduated from historically Black schools.
Addressing the graduates, Biden said, “I’m here to congratulate you, but also let you know — and this is not hyperbole — that your country is counting on you.”