His tone echoed remarks on the one-year anniversary of the US Capitol attacks, reflecting a new White House calculus after a year focused on working with Republicans. Supporters of Mr Trump were attempting “a coup” on Jan 6 2021, Mr Biden said on Tuesday.
“Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote,” he added. “Not one.”
Before Mr Biden spoke, there was a moment of solemnity as he and Kamala Harris, the vice-president, stood before King’s gravesite, with King’s family standing nearby, heads bowed.
Mr Biden and Ms Harris later spoke on the shared campus of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, two historically black schools.
Jesiah Osbourne, 21, a senior student at Morehouse who gave Mr Biden mixed reviews overall, said that he credits the president for pushing for a cornerstone civil right even in the absence of a clear legislative path.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “There’s no unity.”
Many activists say that Mr Biden should have done more during his first year in office to push for reforms, while some – including Georgia’s Stacey Abrams – did not attend his speech.
Mr Biden told reporters on Tuesday that he spoke to Ms Abrams, and despite a schedule mix-up, they are “on the same page”.
“The President deeply understands that Congress must pass” the voting rights bills “by whatever legislative means necessary”, said Ms Abrams.