President Joe Biden was not making a ‘human’ comparison between opponents of his voter rights push with racists and segregationists in a speech this week, said the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday.
Rather he simply meant to compare the actions of those who opposed reform with the likes of George Wallace and other notorious figures.
The clean-up came after critics accused Biden of divisive rhetoric, and the president has since seen his initiative collapse as two hold-out Democratic senators said they could not support his plan to change Senate rules in order to pass the legislation.
In a major set-piece speech on on Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia, he asked whether lawmakers wanted ‘to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace.’
He continued: ‘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?’
During her daily briefing, White House Press Secretary was asked what happened to the election candidate who said it was important not to treat opponents as the enemy.
‘I think everybody listening to that speech who’s speaking on the level, as my mother would say, would note that he was not comparing them as humans, 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,’ she said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about President Biden’s comments during her regular briefing on Friday. She defended them saying it was not a comparison as ‘humans’
A fiery Biden attacked Donald Trump by name and called out Republicans for passing ‘anti-voting’ laws in states around the country. And he denounced the January 6th insurrection in the Capitol as a ‘coup’
Wallace was a four-term Democratic governor or Alabama, remembered for his segregationist and populist views.
In his 1963 inauguration address he declared he stood for: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.’
Connor, another Democrat was Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Ala., during the 1960s and ordered police to violently disperse civil rights protesters.
And Davis was the first and only Confederate president during the Civil War.
Republicans blasted his speech as divisive.
Senate Republican leader McConnell said: ‘It was designed to pull our country further apart.’
Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, he said Biden ‘shouted that if you disagree with him, you’re George Wallace.’
‘George Wallace?’ he continued. ‘If you don’t pass the laws he wants, you’re Bull Connor, and if you oppose giving Democrats untrammeled, one-party control of the country, well you’re Jefferson Davis.’
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell tore into President Joe Biden, calling his Atlanta speech ‘incorrect, incoherent, and beneath his office’
Even some Democratic allies questioned the president’s language this week.
Sen. Dick Durbin told CNN: ‘Perhaps the president went a little too far in his rhetoric.
‘Some of us do.’
Others shrugged off the remarks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she doubted whether the reference meant much to voters.
‘Nobody knows who Bull Connor is,’ she said at a news conference.
‘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?’