Return to Transcripts main page


President Biden Delivers Speech on Voting Rights. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 15:00   ET


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Civil rights groups and other organizations have announced their plans to stay vigilant and challenge these odious laws in the courts.


In Texas, for example, the Republican-led state legislature wants to allow partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters and imperil -- and impartial poll workers.

They want voters to drive further and be able to be in a position where they wonder who is watching them and intimidating them, to wait longer to vote, to drive a hell of a lot long -- excuse me -- a long way to get to vote.


BIDEN: They want to make it so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don't vote at all. That's what this is about.

This year alone, 17 states have enacted, not just proposed, but enacted 28 new laws to make it harder for Americans to vote, not to mention -- and catch this -- nearly 400 additional bills Republican members of the state legislatures are trying to pass.

The 21st century Jim Crow assault is real. It's unrelenting. And we're going to challenge it vigorously.



BIDEN: While this broad assault against voting rights is not unprecedented, it's taking on new and literally pernicious forms. It's no longer just about who gets to vote or making it easier for eligible voters to vote.

It's about who gets to count the vote, who gets to count whether or not your vote counted at all. It's about moving from independent election administrators who work for the people to polarized state legislatures and partisan actors who work for political parties. To me, this is simple. This is election subversion. It's the most

dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history. Never before have they decided who gets to count, count what votes count. Some state legislators want to make it harder for you to vote.

And if you vote, they want to be able to tell you your vote doesn't count for any reason they make up. They want the ability to reject the final count and ignore the will of the people if their preferred candidate loses.

And they're trying -- not only targeting people of color. They're targeting voters of all races and backgrounds with a simple target: Who did not vote for them? That's the target. It's unconscionable.

I mean, really, it's hard to -- it's hard to declare just how critical this is. It's simply unconscionable. We have got to sure up our election system and address the threats to election subversion, not just from abroad, which I spent time with Putin talking about, but from home, from home.

We must ask those who represent us at the federal, state and local levels, will you deny the will of the people? Will you ignore their voices? 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, which brings me perhaps to the most important thing we have to do. We have forge a coalition of Americans of every background and political party, the advocates, the students, the faith leaders, the labor leaders, the business executives, and raise the urgency of this moment, because as much as people know they're screwing around with the election process, I don't think that most people think this is about who gets to count what vote counts, literally, not figuratively.

You vote for certain electors to vote for somebody for president. A state legislature comes along, under their proposal, and they say, no, we don't like those electors. We're going to appoint other electors who are going to vote for the other guy or other woman, because here's the deal.

In 2020, democracy was put to a test, first by the pandemic, then by a desperate attempt to deny the reality and the results of the election, and then by a violent and deadly insurrection on the Capitol, the citadel of our democracy.

I have been around a long time in public life. I have thought I have seen it all or most of it all. But I never thought I'd see that, for real. And in spite of what you see on television -- and you saw it -- you have senators saying it was just a day at the Capitol, just people visiting the Capitol.


Folks, but we met the test. Because of the extraordinary courage of election officials, many of them Republicans, our court system, and those brave Capitol Police officers, because of them, democracy held.

Look how close it came, I mean, for real, how close it came. We're going to face another test in 2022, a new wave of unprecedented voter suppression and raw and sustained election subversion. We have to prepare now.

As I have said time and again, no matter what, you can never stop the American people from voting. They will decide. And the power must always be with the people. That's why, just like we did in 2020, we have to prepare for 2022. We will engage in an all-out effort to educate voters about the changing laws, register them to vote, and then get the vote out.

We will encourage people to run for office themselves at every level. We will be asking my Republican friends in Congress and states and cities and counties to stand up, for God's sake, and help prevent this concerted effort to undermine our election and the sacred right to vote.


BIDEN: Have you no shame?

Whether it's stopping foreign interference in our elections or the spread of disinformation from within, we have to work together. Vice President Harris and I will be making it clear that there's real peril in making raw power, rather than the idea of liberty, the centerpiece of the common life.

The founders understood this. The woman of Seneca Falls understood this. The brave heroic foot soldiers of the civil rights movement understood this. So must we. This isn't about Democrats or Republicans. It's literally about who we are as Americans. It's that basic.

It's about the kind of country we want today, the kind of country we want for our children and grandchildren tomorrow. And, quite frankly, the whole world is watching.


BIDEN: Folks, I'm not being sentimental. I'm not preaching to you. I'm just giving it to you straight, as I promised I would always do, lay things out on the line and honor your trust with trust.

So, hear me clearly. 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, who we are as Americans, 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. I never thought in my entire career I'd ever have to say it. But I swore an oath to you, to God to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. And that's an oath that forms a sacred trust to defend America against all threats, both foreign and domestic.


BIDEN: The assault on free and fair elections is just such a threat, literally.

I have said it before. We're facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That's not hyperbole, since the Civil War. The Confederates back then never breached the Capitol, as insurrectionists did on January the 6th.

I'm not saying this to alarm you. I'm saying this because you should be alarmed.

I'm also saying this. There's good news. It doesn't have to be this way. It doesn't have to be, for real. We have the means. We just need the will, the will to save and strengthen our democracy. We did in '20. We did in 2020. The battle for the soul of America, in that battle, the people voted. Democracy prevailed. Our Constitution held.


We have to do it again.

My fellow Americans, it requires fair-mindedness, devotion to justice, corny as it sounds, love of country. It requires us to unite in common purposes to declare, here and now, we, the people, will never give up. We will not give in.


BIDEN: We will overcome.


BIDEN: We will do it together.

And guaranteeing the right to vote, ensuring every vote is counted has always been the most patriotic thing we can do.

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, for we, the people, for our democracy, for America itself, we must act.

God bless you all, and may God protect our troops and all those who stand watch over our democracy.


BIDEN: But act. We've got to act.

Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Listening there to President Biden giving a very passionate speech about what he calls the most serious test to our democracy since the Civil War.

He's talking about voting rights and the restrictive voting laws that are happening in 17 states across the country. It's obviously something he feels very strongly about. I mean, he basically was saying it's the most fundamental right, and that liberty is being threatened.

We have an incredible panel to help us unpack everything that he just talked about.

So, joining us now, we have chief political correspondent Dana Bash, chief national correspondent John King, CNN political commentators Errol Louis and Bakari Sellers, and chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Dana, I want to start with you. I know your time with us is limited.

It was very interesting to hear President Biden. I would say that his most -- correct me if I'm wrong -- fulsome defense of voting rights thus for. Civil rights leaders have been calling for this and saying you have been in office for six months. I mean, infrastructure is important, but this is the most important.

And that seems like what he was saying today.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. You're exactly right that there has been an outcry from not just civil rights leaders, just maybe run-of-the-mill Democrats in states across the country who feel completely under siege by their local leaders, by their legislatures.

And they don't feel that, from the White House, there has been enough effort made rhetorically to try to push back. And that was definitely answered today with that speech. I can't imagine a stronger, more robust speech.

The question is, how do you turn the speech trying to galvanize people using the bully pulpit, traditional means, into a real battle with people who he said, have you no shame? The answer is, no, they don't have shame, a lot of these people, these Republicans, conservatives, people who are believing and peddling in the big lie in order to change and roll back these laws.

So, in some ways, this was important. It was a first step for people who have been calling for this. But in some ways, unless the president is going to go another step and going to say we need to actually change rules in the United States Senate to get this done, so the federal government can have more of an impact, what he basically was doing was taking kind of a butter knife to a fight against a nuclear bomb.

And that is what the pressure is going to continue to be on the president, to convince some of those moderate Democrats in the place he used to work for 36 years, the United States Senate, that this is the one issue that is important to work around the filibuster on.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yes, John King, to you.

One of the civil rights groups that spoke with the president a couple of days ago, a little more than a week ago, actually, said that it would have been an epic fail for the president not to mention the filibuster or to say it's time to at least create a carve-out, if he didn't do that during the speech.

He didn't do it, didn't mention those conservative Democrats.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, I think that's -- call it a paradox, call it an inconsistency. There may be a better word for it.

But the president made it very passionate case for the two pieces of Democratic legislation that would deal with voting rights and essentially wipe some of these -- tested in courts if they passed it, but wipe these Republican laws off the books or at least try to.

The president mentioned at the beginning, but then he sort of conceded the point that that wasn't going to pass, and talking near the end of the speech about how important it is for Democrats and their friends in the civil rights community, in the voting rights community to educate people, to register people, to teach them about the new laws, and to turn them out in 2022.


That was sort of an admission right there for the president implicitly that they're not going to get a new federal law. And you mentioned that it would be an epic fail.

Look, there are a lot of progressive, a lot of civil rights leaders who wanted the president to look the American people or the Senate in the eye, and say, this is so important, I'm going to change my mind, meaning his love of the filibuster, his love of Senate procedure, and then try to work the Democrats to do it.

But he simply did not do that. And I think that will be -- there will be great praise for the passion and the anger in the president's speech, praise for the promise to continue this fight. But there will be disappointment among those who count votes in Washington knowing that unless he's willing to change his own mind and change minds in the Senate, you will not get that vote in Washington.

CAMEROTA: Bakari, where did you hear?


I mean, I think that the question is going to be, how much does this really mean to you? How much do you really want it? The oratory was brilliant. The emotion was palpable. But at the end of the day, he didn't mention the filibuster. At the end of the day, he didn't mention Sinema and Manchin.

I mean, I thought the speech was great. I thought the delivery was great. I thought the backdrop was great. But we have been here before. I mean, look, you had George Elmore in 1946, who was what they deemed to be a renaissance Negro, who filed a suit, Elmore vs. Rice, in 1947, just so that black folk could vote in primaries in the South Carolina Democratic Party.

You had Freedom Summer in 1964, with the death of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. I mean, to quote John Lewis, John Lewis would do anything. He would actually get into good trouble, because we know that the filibuster is rooted in injustice and oppression.

And so I think that, while the speech and the oratory were good, the substance and the question that many of us would have for the president of the United States, who we love, support and voted for, is, how much does it mean to you?

Because without getting rid of the filibuster, without getting rid of the filibuster, you're going to have many people who came out and waited in line voting for you with absolutely no recourse, and Republicans will continue to steamroll and rip apart what we fought for and many people died for, which is now a Voting Rights Act which is nothing but a nub.

BLACKWELL: So, Kaitlan, place this speech into the context of the White House strategy.

Was this a fulfillment of the promise to use the bully pulpit that the president made to those civil rights groups? Or is this a kickoff of something more than what we heard, that there will be more muscle put behind those words?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they haven't telegraphed any other speeches.

They have said that he will continue to talk about this extensively. So we can imagine there may be more of these speeches to come. But I do think one part of the strategy here today was not just to talk about passing legislation in the future, but also to talk about why we are seeing Republicans in states nationwide try to change their election laws, like what you're seeing in Texas, basing all of it off of the lie that was pushed and perpetrated by former President Trump.

And that is what President Biden got at here today, when he was ticking through all of the audits and the hand count recounts and the recounts that doubled and tripled themselves in some states to go after and make sure the vote count was entirely and completely accurate.

And he walked through that step by step. And I think that was part of a tool to convince and to push back on some of these Republicans in these states to say that what they are doing is not based on anything. It's not that there was fraud in one of these states and that's why you're seeing some lawmakers, some state lawmakers talk about the need to overhaul it.

There is none of that. And so President Biden was really going after to say that it's baseless what they're basing all of this is on. And what they're pushing back on and what you're seeing Democrats and civil rights activists say is such a threat to democracy and trying to limit access to the ballot is based on nothing, all perpetrated by former President Trump.

And he was saying the big lie is just that. It's a big lie.

One other point that I do think that was interesting that the president made was, he looked at lawsuits against some of these new voting laws that are happening in states, including one by the Department of Justice in Georgia. It's not clear, of course, how that will end up.

But we have heard from some civil rights leaders who say that you can't litigate your way out of this issue. They believe the solution is legislation. And so, yes, he did call on that. That was one of the biggest applause lines, where he said he would sign those two voting rights bills, but, of course, they face basically insurmountable odds on Capitol Hill unless something does change to the filibuster.

So those two points I thought were very notable of his strategy while he was here in Philadelphia.

CAMEROTA: Errol, here's the problem. The people who believe the big lie get their information from a network that still calls itself a news network, though it doesn't take the president's speeches.


And today was no different. They noted that President Biden was speaking, but they never took the sound up. They were too busy covering Bill Gates' divorce. And so the people will not hear -- I mean, a large chunk of the country will not hear President Biden's message that -- there -- that democracy is basically in some states being threatened or stolen before our very eyes.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it was a remarkably important message.

It could only have been, I think, more solemn if it had been delivered during prime time from the Oval Office. It's that important when he says that democracy is under attack in a way that hasn't been true in over 100 years.

This is really important. If other networks choose not to deliver that incredibly important message, that's on them. But what I heard the president saying, Alisyn, is that this is not going to just be his problem. This is not going to just be his task, that he's trying to enlist of the rest of the nation.

And, particularly, he's trying to enlist civil rights organizations. He's trying to enlist the courts. He's trying to let everybody know this is going to have to be a fight that everybody's involved in. And if it is successful, if he does manage to stir and rouse a sufficient percentage of the population, that will be the pressure on the Senate.

And that will be the pressure on members of Congress. That will be the pressure indirectly on the courts to try and begin to turn the tide here. It's going to be a big, long, vicious fight. I think the stakes could not be higher. The president made that clear.

And those who want to try and avoid this fight I think are going to find that it's going to be right in their face. I mean, the Democratic base, who he was speaking to today, is going to be aroused, is going to be in the streets, is going to be working for a lot of different changes.

And we saw this example in Texas, extraordinary action by state legislators, not just a stunt, but people really sort of being as creative as possible in trying to turn back this threat to the country.

BLACKWELL: John, I jotted down that section that Errol referenced, this forming of a coalition.

But I wrote next to it "New?" because they already have that. He had the meeting with the civil rights activists. The All-Star Game for the MLB was pulled out of Georgia because of their voting rights. They have got all of these groups. I mean, you say that you heard an admission there that there will not be new legislation.

I didn't hear anything new from the president here as what this next step will be.

KING: I do think we should give the president some credit that he decided, under some pressure, but decided to give this speech. The question, as Kaitlan notes, is, will there be follow-up, will there be additional speeches? Or will he and the vice president travel the country?

So I don't think we should set it all aside. But when the president says legislation is not the only tool and talks about the lawsuits and talks about mobilizing voters, that to me was -- and then does not mention the filibuster, does not promise to lobby senators to change their mind -- that to me was the implicit admission that this is going to be settled at the ballot box next year, more than it is going to be settled by any big dramatic vote in the Congress.

One other point. The president at one point, he was trying to shame Republicans, my God, pay attention to the big lie. But we have seen this play out. And I think sometimes that the president sometimes does have this romanticized view that, if you talk to people long enough, you will get them to come around, or at least strike a reasonable compromise.

That Republican Party doesn't exist anymore. Look what happened to Liz Cheney when she stood up to Donald Trump and the big lie. There are some Republicans who will stand up to the big lie, but they are few and far between.

And the Republicans who are in leadership here in Washington, leadership of state Republican parties, leadership in the governors' office who are passing these laws around the country, they know the election was not stolen. They know there was no fraud, but they continue to use -- no widespread fraud -- but they continue to use it to push these laws because these laws, Victor, guarantee more Republican power.

If you have fewer drop boxes in Harris County, Texas, then fewer Blacks and Latinos vote, or it's harder for them to vote, and so on and so forth. If you allow politicians to look at the results of the election, as opposed to more neutral parties, and say, I don't like who won, we have the right to change it, that's simply dangerous. The president is right about that.

That's one of the more nefarious things in some of these state laws. The question is, what can you do about it? And the president, if he would change his own mind and lean on members of his own party, he might lose. They might not change their mind. But he would put his shoulder into that fight. We don't see a willingness to do that.

So I think the big question is going to be, A, can they win in the courts? The recent Supreme Court decision makes that most unlikely. We will watch some of these state challenges come up through the federal courts, and they get there.

And then, number two, the president's going to get some blowback from this, some public and some private, that he didn't go after the filibuster. Can they put the proof in the pudding? Will they raise the money to educate all these Democratic voters? Can they prove the Republicans wrong at the polls next year?

We're in the early chapter of this fight, but, right now, if you're a Democrat, or if you're just an advocate of voting rights as an independent or Republican or whatever, you're losing.


CAMEROTA: Bakari, I mean, the what can we do about it, you're talking about the filibuster.

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have said that, if you change it now, it can be used against Democrats in the future. That's part of their reluctance to change anything about the filibuster, to do away with it.

SELLERS: Yes, that's also outwardly asinine, because if you're going to have a question or a speech today about the fierce urgency of now, understanding this moment, if democracy is at stake, then you even carve out to take advantage of the moment that you're in.

But I have to address what Victor and John and the conversation they just had. Look, why do we have to go back to the ballot box? Democrats have the House, the Senate and the White House. You have majorities. Like, if you don't want to govern, then why are we coming out to vote for you?

Why are we standing in lines for hours to send Warnock and Ossoff to the United States Senate if you're not going to pass voting rights? Why are we doing all of these things and organizing in the streets? Why do you have William Barber and LaTosha Brown and the NAACP and all of these different organizations, HBCUs, and The Links and AKAs is coming out in huge numbers, all your fraternities and sororities coming on in huge numbers to support you if you're not going to do anything?

Like, if you're not going to -- if you're not going to reschedule marijuana, if you're not going to pass voting rights, if you're not going to give us criminal justice reform, if you're not going to do the things that we put you in office for, then what is this about?

I understand the clarion call of the issue. There's not one person in this country who voted for the Democratic Party, who voted for this majority who does not understand how important this issue is. But now Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris are in charge of Washington, D.C.

And the question is, if we gave you the majority, and you're not going to do anything, why does it matter?

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan Collins, I saw you wanted to add something there.

COLLINS: I just want to know that one part of this speech, in addition to what's coming next and what the president personally is going to push for, I think part of the goal was just to bring everyone back down to reality, to look at these election laws that are being enacted all across the nation that are based on absolutely nothing.

There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. And the president made clear it was one of the safest and most secure elections in our nation's history. Election experts have said that all across the board.

And he was speaking directly to Trump without naming him when he was saying, you cannot deny the outcome of an election just because you did not like it. That is essentially what is happening here. And that is what you're seeing Republicans push all across the board.

So while we are seeing these calls for -- from Democrats for new federal legislation, so they can override some of these state laws that they feel are too restrictive and are going to block people from actually voting, you have to also remember the root of this entire issue is Donald Trump and former President Trump pushing those election lies that has now spurred on Republicans across the board to do so as well, even though they are based on absolutely nothing.

And I think that was one part of his speech that we haven't seen President Biden say or really try to hammer home. Yes, he's noted it before. He's talked about the big lie. But I think part of that, just breaking that down, was something that was also a new effort, maybe just symbolic from the White House, but just to really dispel this notion that there was any actual fraud that happened in the election that needs to be corrected with these new state laws.

BLACKWELL: The president said the merchants of fear and peddlers of lies are threatening the foundation of our country.

A little more than 20 minutes, the president spoke there today at the National Constitution Center.

John King, Bakari Sellers, Errol Louis, Kaitlan Collins, also Dana Bash at the top, thank you all.

We also have a civil rights leader who is standing by. He met with the president on this issue just a few days ago. We will get his take on the speech next.