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Biden pushes for voting bill, police reform at MLK Memorial event

Biden called efforts to restrict voting access a “sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion.”

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday he shares the frustration of supporters disheartened by recent setbacks on police reform and voting access legislation, and vowed to continue the fight on Capitol Hill.

During remarks at the 10th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, he called efforts to restrict voting access a “sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion.” His comments came just a day after Senate Republicans filibustered a major voting bill for the second time this year, preventing it from advancing.

“I know progress does not come fast enough, it never has,” Biden said. “The process of governing is frustrating, and sometimes dispiriting. But I also know what's possible if we keep the pressure up, if we never give up, we keep the faith.”

He said the country is still struggling with racism and hate more than five decades after King's assassination. He referenced the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and a rise in hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic.

The president also addressed the breakdown in bipartisan negotiations to get a deal on police reform legislation.

"I know the frustration we all feel that more than one year after George Floyd's murder, and the conviction of his murderer about six months ago, meaningful police reform in George's name has still not passed Congress," Biden said. But, he added, "you got to keep fighting."

The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, but the bill lacked enough Republican support to clear the Senate. Months of bipartisan discussions eventually collapsed in September.

Voting access and police reform are top legislative priorities for Democrats, and the inability to get either measure across the finish line has exasperated many who helped Biden win the White House in November.

But Biden on Thursday proposed no new solutions to getting either bill through Congress, nor did he propose any executive actions on the two issues.

He also made the case for passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the social safety net spending package being negotiated by Democrats, who are divided over what should be included in the bill and how to pay for it.

“As the economy recovers, we are determined and focused on rebuilding it over the long run,” Biden said. “No one should have to hold their breath as they cross a rundown bridge to determine whether it's safe enough, or a dangerous intersection in their hometown. Every American, every child should be able to turn on a faucet and drink water that’s not contaminated by lead or anything else.”