President Joe Biden delivers a speech on voting rights at the National Constitution Center, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Philadelphia.
Evan Vucci | AP
President Joe Biden on Tuesday delivered a major speech on voting rights in Philadelphia, slamming his predecessor's "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was stolen.
"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, just steps away from Independence Hall.
The speech comes as his administration faces growing pressure from civil rights activists and other Democrats to do more to combat attacks on voting rights, an issue that Biden called "the most significant test" of American democracy since the Civil War.
Biden blasted former President Donald Trump's claims that widespread voter fraud cost him the 2020 election, a claim that has pushed GOP leaders to enact a flurry of new voting laws in key states, including Florida and Georgia. Critics argue the new laws are discriminatory and restrict access to the ballot.
The president directly denounced these efforts by GOP-controlled legislatures as a "Jim Crow assault," and compared them to behaviors seen in autocracies around the world.
"To me, this is simple. This is election subversion. It's the most dangerous threat to voting in the integrity of free and fair elections in our history," Biden said. "They want the ability to reject the final count and ignore the will of the people if their preferred candidate loses."
Biden pressed for the passage of federal voting rights during his remarks, stating that the fight to protect voting rights begins with passing the For The People Act.
"That bill would help end voter suppression in states, get dark money out of politics, give voice to people, create fair district maps and end partisan political gerrymandering," Biden said.
He criticized Republicans for opposing the sweeping Democratic voting rights and government ethics bill, which failed to pass in the Senate last month after Republicans deployed the filibuster.
Biden also underscored the importance of passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would "restore and expand voting protections and prevent voter suppression." He pressured Republican lawmakers to support such Democratic legislation that would protect voting rights.
"We'll ask 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 said.
The president criticized the Supreme Court's repeated "harmful" decision to weaken the Voting Rights Act, noting that the Court first gutted a key provision of the act in 2013 and later upheld two Republican-backed voting laws in Arizona two weeks ago, which are measures that Democrats say violate the act. He then called on Congress to repair the "damage done" by passing voting rights legislation.
Biden warned that the U.S. will "face another test in 2022" during the midterm elections, adding that the nation needs to prepare for voter suppression and election subversion.
"We have to prepare now. As I 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," Biden said.
As of mid-June, at least 17 states have enacted laws that restrict access to vote, with more being considered, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law.
Aside from the Supreme Court ruling in Arizona on July 1, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a restrictive election bill into law in March after it passed by the state's Republican-controlled legislature. The law requires voters to provide identification for mail-in ballots and prohibits people from giving food and water to voters waiting in line, punitive steps that critics say could harm turnout in minority communities.
Biden's administration has turned to the courts in response. The Department of Justice sued the state of Georgia on June 25, stating that the election bill infringed on the rights of Black Georgians.
Supreme court decisions in recent years have contributed to the problem, starting with the gutting of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, as Biden cited in his speech. This decision allowed nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.
The Court has also limited the ability to "prove intentional racial discrimination," according to a White House memo sent before the speech, which has made it difficult for advocacy groups and the Department of Justice to combat restrictive voter laws.
Passing new voting legislation to protect voting rights in Congress would likely require a change to filibuster rules, especially as Democrats hold a razor thin majority in the Senate. But Biden has backed reforming rather than eliminating the filibuster, making the future of new voting laws uncertain.
Now, with Democrats' legislative efforts stalled, the White House is beginning to look outside of Washington for ways to combat the wave of new voting restrictions.
Biden has had several meetings at the White House with civil rights groups, who pushed the administration to keep fighting for voting rights despite resistance from Republicans. The groups have opposed the Republican-backed voting restrictions, which critics say are aimed at Hispanic, Black and younger voters.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been tasked to lead the administration's efforts to protect voting rights, also recently announced a new $25 million investment by the Democratic National Committee to expand its program that will help boost voter engagement in the upcoming midterm elections.
During the first few months of his presidency, Biden also signed an executive order directing agencies to promote voter access. This includes developing better methods of distributing voting information and increasing opportunities to participate in the electoral process, which includes voters with distinct needs, such as service members, people with disabilities and tribal communities, among others.