- President Biden on Tuesday criticized the wave of GOP-backed voting restrictions.
- The president’s address in Philadelphia was his first major voting-rights speech.
- Biden has faced mounting pressure from voting-rights activists to take more forceful action.
- Sign up for the 10 Things in Politics daily newsletter.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday denounced the wave of GOP-backed restrictive voting bills, using the concept of a free and fair democracy to make a moral argument for voting rights in his first major speech on the matter.
Biden spoke at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia as the White House and his administration face mounting pressure to adopt a more forceful stance on voter suppression.
“The denial of full and free and fair elections is the most un-American thing that any of us can imagine, the most un-democratic, the most un-patriotic and sadly not unprecedented,” Biden said.
In his speech, the president lambasted Republican-led efforts to enact restrictive voting bills in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.
“To me, this is simple. It’s election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting in the integrity of free and fair elections in our history,” Biden said.
He added: “We have got to shore up our election system and address the threats to election subversion not just from abroad, which I spent time with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin talking about, but from home. From home. Will you ignore their voices? Are you on the side of truth or lies, fact or fiction, justice or injustice? Democracy or autocracy? That’s what it comes down to.”
In the speech, Biden forcefully defended the integrity of the 2020 election.
“More than 80 judges, including those appointed by my predecessor heard the arguments,” he said. “In every case, neither cause nor evidence was found to undermine the national achievement of administering the historic election.”
“The big lie is just that — a big lie!” Biden added.
The president also made the case that American democracy has been strained over the past year.
“In 2020, democracy was put to a test. First by the pandemic. Then by a desperate attempt to deny the reality of the results of the election, and then by a violent and deadly insurrection on the Capitol, the citadel of our democracy,” he said.
Biden has previously highlighted the growing trend of legislatures also passing provisions that add potential criminal penalties for election officials and give partisan state lawmakers more control over who runs elections and more power to overturn election results.
Republican lawmakers in 17 states have passed over 28 bills with provisions that tighten voting access as of June 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, after Trump and his allies waged an unprecedented campaign to try to overturn the 2020 election results based on false claims of fraud.
Biden’s speech also came as a group of dozens of Democratic state lawmakers from Texas left the state in droves to deny the quorum necessary to pass election legislation during a special legislative session set to last until August 6.
Those lawmakers visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby lawmakers on passing federal legislation to protect voting rights.
But at the federal level, the White House is staring down the problem of a Senate filibuster rule that requires a three-fifths majority for most legislation and no room for error in a Senate that’s split 50-50.
Republicans in the Senate filibustered S.1, the For The People Act, Democrats’ wide-ranging voting rights and democracy reform legislation, on June 22, killing the bill’s chances for now.
Republicans have consistently defended GOP voting laws as common sense reforms that will bolster election security and claimed that the Democrats are overstating their potential to restrict voting.
“Joe Biden and Democrats have an election power grab playbook: lies and theatrics. After Democrats failed to pass their federal takeover of our elections (H.R.1), Biden is continuing their dishonest attacks on commonsense election integrity efforts,” Republican National Committee Communications Director Danielle Álvarez said in a statement. “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.”
Biden, to the chagrin of many liberal activists, has been unwilling to call for major changes to the Senate filibuster. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the decision over whether to make changes to the filibuster “will be made by members of the Senate, not by this president or any president, frankly, moving forward.”
“If it were waving a magic wand to get voting rights legislation on his desk through any means, he would do that,” Psaki said. “But it requires the majority of members in the Senate to support changes to the filibuster.”
Biden will “continue to lift up, elevate, advocate, engage, [and] empower people across the country,” Psaki added, calling it “the most instructive” thing he can do.