- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday sharply criticized President Joe Biden.
- Biden called on Congress to change Senate rules to advance voting rights legislation.
- McConnell called his speech "deliberately divisive" and "profoundly unpresidential."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday rebuked President Joe Biden for calling for changes to the Senate's rules to advance a pair of voting rights bills that are a vital part of Democrats' domestic agenda.
Biden's Tuesday speech in Atlanta, Georgia was "deliberately divisive" and "designed to pull our country farther apart," the Kentucky Republican said.
"I have known, liked, and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at that podium yesterday," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
In his speech, Biden demanded Congress pass two pieces of legislation: the Freedom To Vote Act, a voting rights bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court has weakened over time.
The Democratic push for voting rights legislation comes after a slew of Republican-led state legislatures passed new laws last year that tightened voting access and injected politics into the election administration process.
Republicans have blocked both voting rights bills, denouncing them as an attempt by the federal government to take over how states run their elections.
In his speech, Biden compared the current dispute over voting rights to the historic fight between civil rights activists and segregationists.
"Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?" Biden asked, referring to the former president and former Confederate president.
McConnell blasted Biden's speech as a "rant" that was "incorrect, incoherent, and beneath his office" and "unbecoming of a president."
"He compared a bipartisan majority of senators to literal traitors," the GOP leader said. "How profoundly, profoundly unpresidential."
Biden publicly urged lawmakers to approve the voting rights bills by working around the Senate filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority for legislation to pass, rather than a 51-vote simple majority. With the Senate evenly divided, the filibuster has presented a roadblock for Biden and Democrats to tick off their legislative priorities in the face of widespread Republican opposition.
"I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights," Biden said on Tuesday.
Democrats would first have to convince their fellow Democratic colleagues, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to get on board. Both moderate senators have previously vowed to uphold the filibuster.
McConnell has long been a fierce opponent to removing the filibuster, threatening to bring the Senate to a standstill if Democrats choose to invoke the nuclear option and advance their agenda through a simple-majority vote.
"This inflammatory rhetoric was not an attempt to persuade skeptical Democratic or Republican senators. In fact, you could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than a president abandoning rational persuasion for pure demagoguery," McConnell said of Biden's speech.
"Biden has rejected the better angels of our nature. So it is the Senate's responsibility to protect the country," he added.
The president stopped by the Capitol on Wednesday to pay tribute to the late Sen. Harry Reid, who lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda, and was asked by reporters for a response to McConnell's comments.
"I like Mitch McConnell," Biden said. "He's a friend."