Republicans are outraged over President Joe Biden's comparisons of people who oppose proposed voting legislation to segregationists Bull Connor and George Wallace and the leader of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, but he and the White House are standing behind his comments.
"He was not comparing them as humans," White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said about the controversy, reports The Washington Post Friday. "He was comparing the choice to those figures in history and where they’re going to position themselves as they determine whether they’re going to support the fundamental right to vote or not.”
Biden last week sparked the complaints when, while pushing the voting legislation, he asked elected officials if they wanted to be remembered as being "on the side of Dr. [Martin Luther] 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?”
Wallace, a one-time presidential candidate and former governor of Alabama, had fought to stop the integration of Alabama State University. Connor, meanwhile, was a Southern sheriff and white supremacist who is infamous for turning police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights activists.
But Republicans, speaking out about the comparisons, are quick to point out that Wallace, Connor, and Davis were all Democrats.
"That's the history of the Democrat Party," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Newsmax's "National Report" Thursday. "Jim Crow in the South was foisted on us by Democrats."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also spoke out about Biden's remarks, commenting on the Senate floor that Biden "accused a number of my good and principled colleagues in the Senate of having sinister, even racist inclinations."
Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was also furious at the comparisons and called Biden's speech "deliberately divisive" and said the president "invoked the bloody disunion of the Civil War to demonize Americans who disagree with him. He compared a bipartisan majority of senators to literal traitors."
Biden called McConnell a friend and tried to stop to visit the senator the next day at his office on Capitol Hill, but the minority leader wasn't there.
But Biden, on Wednesday during his two-hour press conference, pushed back against people complaining about his remarks.
"I did not say that they were going to be a George Wallace or a Bull Connor," Biden said. "I said we’re going to have a decision in history that is going to be marked just like it was then. You either voted on the side — that didn’t make you a George Wallace or didn’t make you a Bull Connor."
He also got angry when he was asked again about the comments, challenging the reporter to "Go back and read what I said and tell me if you think I called anyone who voted on the side of the position taken by Bull Connor that they were Bull Connor."
He added that he was "making the case" that the bill's opponents' votes would "stick with you the rest of your career and long after you’re gone."
Eddie Glaude, chair of African American studies at Princeton University, told The Post that the reaction was "disingenuous.”
“So you’re going to clutch your pearls when someone implies you’re on the side of Bull Connor when you are making decisions that are based out of the era from which Bull Connor came?” he said. “People are more concerned with being called a racist than they are with the racist implications of their practices.”
But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called Biden's analogy "stark" and told CNN that the president "went a little too far in his rhetoric."
However, he said the principles and values at stake with the legislation "are very similar."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while agreeing with what Biden had said, commented that Biden should have used more modern figures who people would recognize.
"Nobody knows who Bull Connor is," the California Democrat told reporters last week. "You know, if we’re making the case to say, ‘We’re going to be with Martin Luther King or Bull Connor — who’s that?"
The comparisons seemed to be inspired by those made by historian Jon Meacham, who said similar comments during a panel discussion on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attacks.
Meacham helped Biden with his Jan. 6 speech, and told Politico that he "was happy to offer that language for the president to use if he wished.”
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