President Joe Biden has come out swinging in the first couple weeks of 2022. His fiery speeches blasting Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection and condemning the GOP's nationwide assault on the fundamental right to vote were a historic pivot point for the president.
Biden, a longtime consensus builder with an amiable demeanor, surrendered his olive branch to the realities of the knife fight we now find ourselves in to save the republic.
“Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect Americans’ right to vote,” Biden said during his speech in Atlanta. “Not one. Not one.”
Biden's unequivocal indictment of Trump and his Republican enablers ushered in a new day in the fight for American democracy. As White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, Biden’s voting rights speech "clearly struck a nerve." That was particularly true of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who issued a blistering response from the Senate floor—otherwise known as Republicans playing defense.
None of this is to suggest that Democrats will ultimately succeed in getting critical voting rights legislation passed when it is finally debated in the upper chamber and likely defeated with the help of two Democratic senators who have assured Americans a Senate rule is far more integral to democracy than free and fair elections.
But the White House has made an overt shift from the behind the scenes inside game it worked for a solid year to a very public campaign against the saboteurs of our democracy.
"I've been having these quiet conversations with the members of Congress for the last two months," Biden said. "I'm tired of being quiet!" he added, pounding the lectern.
If Democrats fail to pass voting rights legislation, it will undoubtedly be a loss for the country and democracy itself. But from a political standpoint, this is the fight we want to be having: Democrats stand for the fundamental right to vote while Republicans are united against it.
Importantly, the debate isn't happening in a vacuum. Not only did Biden knock it out of the park with his Jan. 6 commemoration speech, but the Justice Department investigation of the Capitol siege is starting to get juicy. This week, federal prosecutors finally indicted Stewart Rhodes, founder of the extremist group the Oath Keepers, on seditious conspiracy charges.
"The indictment filed against Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers or associates marks the first time the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy has been leveled in connection with the wide-ranging Jan. 6 probe," writes The Washington Post.
At the same time, the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 is raining subpoenas—most recently on two GOP strategists, a former White House staffer, and big tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Meta. The panel is also weighing targeting GOP lawmakers like Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
This is what momentum looks like as Democrats build a political narrative around a Republican Party that has given way to anti-democratic extremism. Public hearings from the Jan. 6 panel will add another layer to that narrative.
It's by no means perfect, but it's a good start to an election season that must turn on whether voters are with democracy or against it. And President Biden is building the case that Republicans are very clearly against it.