"As you know, over the last 18 months, we’ve seen a rise in voting-related measures at the state level — including here in Florida – many of which could make it extremely difficult for many eligible voters to cast ballots this year," Holder said. "Here in this state – as in a number of jurisdictions across the country – the Justice Department has initiated careful, thorough and independent reviews of certain proposed changes – examining redistricting plans, as well as early voting procedures, photo identification requirements and changes affecting third party registration organizations – in order to guard against disenfranchisement and to ensure compliance with critical laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
Republicans are holding a vote Thursday afternoon on whether to hold Holder in contempt of Congress because of his decision to hold back documents in the investigation into the Fast and Furious gun-running operation. President Obama has claimed executive privilege over the documents.
Holder barely acknowledged the vote in his remarks — he's scheduled to make a statement on it at 4:45 p.m. — but he did tell attendees "it's good to be here and not be in Washington."
After a warm introduction, the attorney general told the crowd: "I want you to know how much I appreciate those kind words – especially today. It's good to be here and not be in Washington, D.C., right now, you know?"
The audience laughed and applauded at the quip.
Holder, recognizing his Latino audience, touted Obama's accomplishments in areas related to Latino voters. The attorney general heralded the president's move to halt the deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
"This common-sense approach to focusing our enforcement resources will help to make our immigration policy not only more efficient and cost-effective – but more just," Holder said.
He also detailed efforts against Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a controversial and prominent law enforcement figure that the Justice Department has charged with discriminatory practices violating the rights of Latinos.
Holder said Arpaio's policies "have no place — no place — in responsible and effective law enforcement."
The embattled attorney general went on to urge the crowd to continue fighting for civil rights.
"As a nation, we’ve reached a moment of consequence. You understand the range of challenges we’re up against. You know what’s at stake," Holder said. "You have the same concerns that so many Americans have shared with me – in my travels across the country – that the hard-won progress of the Civil Rights era has come under renewed threat; and that our nation may be at risk of falling short of its highest ideals."
The House is expected to vote around 5:30 p.m. Thursday on the contempt of Congress charges against Holder.
— This story was updated at 2:32 p.m.