President Joe Biden will make “the moral case” for voting rights in a highly anticipated speech on Tuesday centered around protecting ballot access in the face of “authoritarian and anti-American” restrictions, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
Biden will use his remarks in Philadelphia “to make the case to the American people about how this is a fundamental right,” Psaki said.
The address from Biden comes in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and as Republican-controlled legislatures have pressed ahead with new state laws imposing limits on voting. Since the November election, state lawmakers have enacted 28 laws in 17 states that restrict ballot access, according to a June tally by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
“In the birthplace of American Democracy, President Biden will articulate how to meet the greatest threat to the right to vote and the integrity of our elections since the Civil War, renew his call for vital legislation — to overcome the rash of anti-voter laws motivated by the Big Lie, and underline the all-of-government effort the Biden-Harris Administration launched to use the powers of the executive branch to protect and advance the sacred, constitutional right to vote,” a White House official told CNN on Tuesday.
Biden will decry Republican obstruction to a sweeping election reform bill that Democrats argue is a necessary counter to state-level efforts to restrict voting access. The President will stress that the work to pass that legislation, the For the People Act, as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act “are only beginning,” according to the official.
The President will call the denial of the right to vote as “grounded in autocracy, undemocratic, un-American, and unpatriotic,” the official said. He will speak about the history of voter suppression in the US, including poll taxes, literacy tests, the disenfranchisement of women and enslaved people and campaigns by the KKK.
The President will note that while voter suppression is not unprecedented in US history, “these new insidious moves to empower partisans over independent election authorities in terms of who counts the votes are new and extremely dangerous,” according to the official.
“And he’ll say in no uncertain terms that such efforts — which could allow partisans to throw out the votes of anyone for made up reasons — are the most significant threat today to the integrity of our elections, and to the security of the right to vote for people of all races and backgrounds,” the official said.
Biden will also call for a new coalition made up of advocates, activists, students, faith leaders, labor leaders and business executives “to overcome this un-American trend and meet the moment as far as turnout and voter education,” the official said.
“The President will repeat that these are the most egregious attempts to harm the integrity of our democracy since the Civil War — while observing that the Confederates never breached the Capitol — but that if we show the will to save and strengthen our democracy, in the best traditions of the country, this can be turned back,” the official said.
In recent days, the eyes of voting rights advocates have been fixed on Texas, where GOP lawmakers are mounting another push for restrictive voting laws during a 30-day special legislative session that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott says he wants to see focused in part on “election integrity.” Texas Democratic lawmakers have fled the state in an attempt to deny the special session a quorum, which would prevent any new laws from being passed.
The President and his team have repeatedly previewed a major push on voting rights after Republicans in the US Senate blocked a sweeping election reform bill last month, but it remains unclear how much he can accomplish. Passing new voting legislation in Congress will almost certainly require altering filibuster rules, since Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate isn’t enough to overcome GOP opposition — and it’s not clear Democrat have the votes to pass a bill anyway.
And Biden has said his efforts must go beyond simply limiting dark money in politics or making Election Day a federal holiday — two items included in the major bill blocked by Republicans last month. He said in June that Democratic efforts must expand to limit the ability of election boards to toss out results or replace officials based on ideology.
But with no clear legislative path in sight, the administration has announced a $25 million expansion of a voting rights effort spearheaded by the Democratic National Committee — though civil rights advocates have pushed the President to do more.
“This is the moment. There is no more time,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who attended a candid session in the White House Roosevelt Room last week alongside other leaders of civil rights organizations. “We must have legislation. We must have the President use his voice, use his influence, use his power, and use what he clearly understands about this moment.”
Additional pressure on Biden to act came earlier this month when a Supreme Court decision limited the ability of minorities to challenge state laws they say are discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.
The high court upheld two provisions of an Arizona voting law. The first provision says in-person ballots cast at the wrong precinct on Election Day must be wholly discarded. Another provision restricts a practice known as “ballot collection,” requiring that only family caregivers, mail carriers and election officials can deliver another person’s completed ballot to a polling place.
“In a span of just eight years, the Court has now done severe damage to two of the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a law that took years of struggle and strife to secure,” Biden said in a statement reacting to the decision. “After all we have been through to deliver the promise of this Nation to all Americans, we should be fully enforcing voting rights laws, not weakening them.”
Beyond pushing for a sweeping voting rights package and denouncing restrictive state-level laws, Biden’s Tuesday speech will also take aim at Trump’s continued election lies. During a rambling Sunday address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Trump returned again and again to election-related lies.
The President, Psaki said, will “call out the greatest irony of the big lie” that “no election in our history has met such a high standard, with over 80 judges including those appointed by his predecessor, throwing out all challenges.”
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