President Biden on Tuesday decried inflammatory and false claims from former President Trump and his allies about the 2020 election and broader efforts to restrict access to the ballot in a major speech on voting rights.
Biden blasted efforts from Trump and others to sow doubt about the election months after it concluded, which have spurred action from GOP-led state legislatures to push new elections laws that would limit absentee voting and make it more difficult for certain groups to vote.
“It’s clear, for those who challenge the results or question the integrity of the election, no other election has ever been held under such scrutiny or such high standards. ‘The big lie’ is just that, a big lie,” Biden said at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Biden pointed to the dozens of court challenges thrown out by federal judges, including some appointed by Trump. He noted that Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia confirmed his victories in each state through audits and recounts. Just hours before Biden spoke, Trump issued a statement calling for Pennsylvania to conduct an audit of the 2020 results, in which Biden won the state by roughly 80,000 votes.
“In America, if you lose, you accept the results,” Biden said in a clear shot at Trump. “You follow the Constitution, you try again. You don’t call facts ‘fake’ and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you’re unhappy. That’s not statesmanship, that’s selfishness.”
The president sought to warn of the perilous consequences of Trump’s rhetoric in a long-awaited speech on voting rights. He delivered remarks as Texas lawmakers fled the state to block passage of a new elections law and as federal voting legislation has hit a brick wall in Congress.
Texas is one of several states that have introduced restrictive new voting laws following the 2020 election. Georgia, Florida, Arizona and other GOP-led states have pushed for changes to their elections laws.
“The 21st century Jim Crow assault is real, it’s unrelenting, and we’re going to challenge it vigorously. While this broad assault against voting rights is not unprecedented, it is taking on new and pernicious forms,” Biden said.
Biden described the ongoing attacks on election integrity from Trump and others, paired with state-level laws tightening ballot access, as an existential threat to democracy.
“We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said. “I’m not saying this to alarm you, I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”
In his remarks, Biden did not announce a new position on the Senate filibuster, which many progressives have said should be scrapped or altered in order to pass voting rights legislation like the For the People Act, a sweeping Democratic bill that would overhaul federal election laws.
Instead, Biden sought to project a sense of urgency around the need for voting rights protections. He raised his voice as he spoke of the legacy of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon whose name is attached to a voting rights bill stalled in Congress.
“Last month, Republicans opposed even debating, even considering the For The People Act. Senate Democrats stood united to protect our democracy and the sanctity of the vote. We must pass the For The People Act, it’s a national imperative,” Biden said.
Republicans vehemently oppose the For the People Act, calling it a blatant power grab by Democrats. The wide-reaching bill would mandate a federal threshold for certain voting rights, such as universal by-mail voting, early voting and same-day voter registration. It also addresses gerrymandering and campaign finance reform.
Biden on Tuesday urged Republicans to support voting rights legislation.
“We’ll be asking my Republican friends in Congress, in states, in cities, in counties to stand up for God’s sake and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election and the sacred right to vote. Have you no shame?” Biden said, raising his voice. “Whether it’s stopping foreign interference in our elections or the spread of misinformation from within, we have to work together.”
“This isn’t about Democrats and Republicans. It’s literally about who we are as Americans, it’s that basic,” he added.
While less contentious than H.R. 1, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act lacks sufficient GOP support in the evenly-split Senate. The measure would restore the formula that required states and jurisdictions with noted histories of racial voting discrimination to get any new voting laws first approved by the Justice Department.
Biden evoked Lewis in his speech, vowing to not give up on his fight for widespread voting rights.
“Just remember, our late friend John Lewis said, freedom is not a state, it’s an act. Freedom is not a state, it’s an act. And we must act and we will act, for our cause is just, our vision is clear, and our hearts are full,” he said, shouting and gesturing to massive applause from the crowd.
Biden said democracy has been put to the test by the pandemic, by an attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, and by the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“For make no mistake: Bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country. It gives me no pleasure to say this,” he said.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) was sharply critical of the president’s remarks, saying that Biden was “pushing lies.”
“Biden is continuing their dishonest attacks on commonsense election integrity efforts. Meanwhile, Republicans are engaged in state-led efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and polling shows Americans overwhelmingly support these laws,” RNC communications director Danielle Álvarez said in a statement.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats met with the Texas House Democrats who fled the state on Monday in order to deny Republicans a quorum to convene a special legislative session and consider an elections reform bill that would overhaul the state’s election procedures.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) vowed to arrest the Democrats, and the Texas House voted on Tuesday to have law enforcement track down the absent lawmakers, a majority of whom left on a charter flight to Washington, D.C.
The events in Texas are putting pressure on Biden to throw more weight behind voting rights legislation following calls from progressives to make it a top priority.
“What we really need today is a Lyndon Johnson moment. We need the power of the presidency. … We need the president and the vice president and every Democrat in the Senate working together to preserve American democracy. There has seldom been more at stake,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) told The Hill on Tuesday.
He said that voting rights should be the number one issue for the president, over the budget and infrastructure.
Over the weekend, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested that an exception to the Senate filibuster be made to allow bills related to voting rights to bypass the procedural rule by simple majority.
Biden’s speech on Tuesday was the latest instance of the White House increasing its outreach surrounding protecting voting rights.
Last week, Vice President Harris announced a $25 million expansion of the Democratic National Committee’s “I Will Vote” initiative, designed to boost voter registration, voter protection and voter education.
Biden and Harris also met with prominent civil rights leaders at the White House last week, who were urging the administration to put pressure on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Via The Hill