President Joe Biden on Tuesday gave his strongest push to date for Democrats’ voting rights bills in Congress as a counter to Republican-backed voter restrictions in dozens of states around the country predicated on former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” of a rigged election.
“No other election has ever been held under such scrutiny or such high standards,” he said in a speech in Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, amid an exhibit titled “Civil War and Reconstruction.”
“The big lie is just that: a big lie,” Biden continued.
The address was scheduled in part to allay concerns from voting rights advocates that he and his White House are not doing enough to push federal legislation.
Biden said the 2020 election “should be celebrated, an example of America at its best.”
“But instead, we continue to see an example of human nature at its worst: something darker and more sinister,” he said. “In America, if you lose, you accept the results. 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 not statesmanship ― that’s selfishness. That’s not democracy, that’s the denial of the right to vote.”
Trump, who tried to overthrow American democracy in an attempt to hang onto power despite his election loss, issued a statement attacking Biden hours before the speech, repeating a number of his election lies and tossing in new ones — such as a claim that Biden “never goes anywhere” on official business.
“Philadelphia was one of the most corrupt cities in the Country — and so is Detroit, and so is Milwaukee, and so is Atlanta, and Pittsburgh, and Oakland, and Baltimore,” Trump said in a statement, rattling off a list of cities with large Black populations as those supposedly rife with election fraud. “Corruption has gone on for years, but in the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, with the mail-in ballots and the use of Covid to cheat, corruption reached new levels.”
In 25 minutes of unusually passionate remarks, Biden, without ever mentioning Trump by name, made it plain that he considered his predecessor’s words and deeds and those who continue to support him a threat to the country.
“We have to ask: Are you on the side of truth, or lies? Fact or fiction? Justice or injustice? Democracy or autocracy? That’s what it’s coming down to,” he said. “In 2020, democracy was put to a test. First by the pandemic, and 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 warned Americans that the nation came closer to the brink than many people believe, and praised the “extraordinary courage of elections officials, many of them Republicans,” as well as the court system and the “brave Capitol Police officers” who were assaulted protecting Congress on Jan. 6.
“Because of them, democracy held. But look how close we came, I mean, for real, how close we came,” he said.
“There’s an unfolding assault, taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote and fair and free elections. An assault on democracy. An assault on liberty. An assault on who we are, an assault on who we are as Americans. For make no mistake: Bullies and merchants of fear and peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundations of our country,” Biden said. “I’m not saying this to alarm you. I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”
Biden again pushed for passage of both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as well as the For the People elections reform bill that has already cleared the House, but which cannot pass the Senate unless Democrats there unite to eliminate the filibuster rule that effectively requires 60 votes for passage of legislation.
Biden, for decades a senator from Delaware, does not favor eliminating the filibuster, and did not mention it Tuesday, although he did criticize Republican senators. “Last month, Republicans opposed even debating, even considering the For The People Act,” he said, but later added: “We have the means. We just need the will. The will to save and strengthen our democracy.”
Trump and his supporters continue to lie about the 2020 election, claiming that millions of illegal votes were cast in a handful of key states and that Trump actually won. Some of his most fervent supporters, including pillow maker Mike Lindell, believe that the U.S. Supreme Court will next month consider their “evidence” and “reinstate” Trump back into the presidency — an absurd belief that has no basis in law.
Trump nevertheless egged this on himself in a statement he released via email last month: “Hard to believe I got 75 million votes (the most of any sitting President) despite all of that, together with a very Fraudulent Election. 2024 or before!”
Republicans in state legislatures, even those who do not believe the election was “stolen” last year, have used Trump supporters’ lack of confidence in the voting process caused by Trump’s claims as the rationale for new restrictions.
Trump spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election after he had lost, starting his lies in the predawn hours of Nov. 4 with claims that he had really won in a “landslide” and that it was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states. After the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump began urging his followers to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to intimidate his own vice president and members of Congress into overturning the election results and installing Trump as president for another term anyway. The mob he incited attempted to do just that as it stormed the Capitol. His supporters even chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after Pence refused to comply with Trump’s demands.
A police officer died after being assaulted during the riot, and two others died by suicide in the following days. One of the rioters was fatally shot, and three others in the crowd died during the melee.
Trump, nevertheless, has not backed away from the election falsehoods, despite a record second impeachment for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.
On Monday ― with zero evidence — Trump accused Virginia of having untrustworthy elections and advised the GOP candidate running for governor there this autumn to watch the “vote counters.”
Trump lost Virginia 44-50 to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and 44-54 to Biden four years later.