Jan 11, 2022
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris Voting Rights & Election Integrity Speech Transcript
President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris spoke about voting rights and election integrity on January 11, 2021. Read the transcript of the speeches here.
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Jillian Jackson: (00:00)
My name is Jillian Jackson. I am a graduating senior, political science major, Spanish minor from Memphis, Tennessee, and I humbly serve as the 80th Spelman College SGA President.
Jillian Jackson: (00:16)
Thank you, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the White House personnel who granted me the opportunity to speak with you today. As we stand on these hallowed grounds of our beloved Atlanta University Center, we stand on the shoulders of activists, such as Julian bond, Benjamin Brown, Ruby Doris Smith, and more recently, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams.
Jillian Jackson: (00:44)
It is our duty as campus leaders and change agents to combat voter discrimination on behalf of our peers and surrounding West End community. We all are aware of Georgia’s current legislation and how it poses a threat to the voting rights of citizens. I distinctly remember registering to vote at a NAACP drive after turning 18 during my first semester at Spelman. I was so eager to vote in my very first election, especially a gubernatorial one.
Jillian Jackson: (01:15)
Unfortunately, when attempting to vote, citizens faced several challenges, including strict absentee requirements, limited polling place access and overall lack of voter education. People wait hours in line to cast out their civic duty to sometimes find that they are unable to place their vote because of technicalities. Small mishaps like misspelled names, incorrect addresses as well as laws preventing food and water distribution to long polling place lines inhibit many citizens and their right to vote, especially within the black community.
Jillian Jackson: (01:50)
I am so excited to hear the current administration’s plans to combat the ongoing voting rights issues in our state. Without further delay it is my distinct honor and pleasure to introduce the 46th President of the United States of America, Joe Biden. And my fellow HBCU sister and sorority sister, Vice President Kamala Harris.
Jillian Jackson: (02:46)
Vice President Kamala Harris: (02:55)
Good afternoon Atlanta. Good afternoon. Jillian, thank you for that beautiful introduction and for your leadership. I can’t wait to see you what you do next. Thank you. So last week, one year… Yes, please do sit. Last week, one year after a violent mob breached the United States Capital, the President of the United States and I spoke from its hallowed halls and we made clear, we swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And we will. We will fight.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (03:54)
We will fight to safeguard our democracy. We will fight to secure our most fundamental freedom, the freedom to vote and that is why we have come to Atlanta today to the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, to the district that was represented by the great Congressman John Lewis, on the Eve of the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. More than 55 years ago, men, women and children marched from Selma to Montgomery to demand the ballot. And when they arrived at the State Capital in Alabama, Dr. King decried what he called normalcy. The normalcy, the complacency that was denying people the freedom to vote. “The only normalcy anyone should accept,” Dr. King said, “is the normalcy of justice.” And his words resonate today.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (05:15)
Over the past few years, we have seen so many anti-voter laws that there is a danger of becoming accustomed to these laws. A danger of adjusting to these laws as though they are normal. A danger of being complacent, complicit. Anti-voter laws are not new in our nation, but we must not be deceived into thinking they are normal. We must not be deceived into thinking a law that makes it more difficult for students to vote is normal. We must not be deceived into thinking a law that makes it illegal to help a voter with a disability vote by mail is normal. There is nothing normal about a law that makes it illegal to a pass out water or food to people standing in long voting lines.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (06:22)
And I have met with voters in Georgia. I have heard your outrage about the anti-voter law here and how many voters will likely be kept from voting. And Georgia is not alone. Across our nation anti-voter laws could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote. That is one out of six people in our country. And the proponents of these laws are not only putting in place obstacles to the ballot box. They are also working to interfere with our elections to get the outcomes they want and to discredit those that they don’t.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (07:12)
That is not how a democracy should work. My fellow Americans, do not succumb to those who would dismiss this assault on voting rights as an unfounded threat, who would wave this off as a partisan gain. The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American in every community, in every political party. And if we stand idly by, our entire nation will pay the price for generations to come. As Dr. King said, “The battle is in our hands.” And today, the battle is in the hands of the leaders of the American people, those in particular, that the American people sent to the United States Senate.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (08:14)
Two landmark bills sit before the United States Senate, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. And these two bills represent the first real opportunity to secure the freedom to vote since the United States Supreme court gutted the Voting Rights Act nearly a decade ago.
Lester Holt: (08:41)
Among other things. And the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would require certain spots to pre-clear voting law changes with the Justice Department and give the Justice Department authority to deploy federal observers where serious threats of racial discrimination and voting exist. Notably some voting groups will skip the president’s speech today in protest of what they call months of inaction by the White House. The president is on the stage right now, Vice President Kamala Harris is concluding her remarks and the president will speak immediately thereafter. Let’s take you to Georgia.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (09:18)
Legislation. The American people have waited long enough. The Senate must act and the bottom line is this. Years from now, our children and our grandchildren, they will ask us about this moment. They will look back on this time and they will ask us not about how we felt. They will ask us what did we do? We cannot tell them that we let a Senate rule stand in the way of our most fundamental freedom.
Vice President Kamala Harris: (10:01)
Instead, let us tell them that we stood together as people of conscience and courage. Let us tell them we acted with the urgency that this moment demands and let us tell them we secured the freedom to vote, that we ensured free and fair elections, and we safeguarded our democracy for them and their children. And now my fellow Americans, it is my honor to introduce a leader who is unwavering in his commitment to defend our democracy and ensure the ballot prevails, the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden: (11:16)
In our lives and the lives of our nation, life of our nation, there are moments so stark that they divide all that came before and everything they’ve followed. They stop time. They rip away the trivial from the essential and they force us to confront hard truths about ourselves, about our institutions and about our democracy. In the words of scripture, to remind us to hate evil, love good and establish justice in the gate. Last week, President Harris and I stood in the United States Capital to observe one of those before and after moments in American history, January 6th, insurrection on the Citadel of our democracy. Today, we come to Atlanta, the cradle of civil rights to make clear what must come after that dreadful day, when a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy. We stand on the grounds to connect Clark, Atlanta, Atlanta University, Morehouse College, near Spelman College, the home of generation of advocates, activists, educators and preachers. Young people, just like the students here who have done so much to build a better America.
President Joe Biden: (13:02)
… on so much to build a better America. We visited the sacred Ebeneezer [inaudible 00:13:09] church and paused to pray at the crypt of Doctor and Mrs. King and spent time with their family. And here in the district as was pointed out, represented and reflected the life of beloved friend, John Lewis. In their lifetimes, time stopped when a bomb blew up the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham and murdered four little girls. They stopped when John and many others seeking justice were beaten and bloodied while crossing the bridge at Selma, named after the grand dragon of a Ku Klux Klan. They stopped. Time stopped.
President Joe Biden: (13:57)
They forced the country to confront the hard truths and to act, to act, to keep the promise of America alive, the promise that holds that we’re all created equal, but more importantly deserve to be treated equally. And from those moments of darkness and despair came light and hope. Democrats and Republicans and independents, worked to pass the historic Civil Rights Act, and the voting rights legislation. And each successive generation continued that ongoing work.
President Joe Biden: (14:35)
But then the violent mob of January 6th, 2021, empowered and encouraged by a defeated former president, sought to win through violence what he had lost at the ballot box, to impose the will of the mob to overturn a free and fair election. And for the first time, the first time in American history, to stop the peaceful transfer of power. They failed.
President Joe Biden: (15:09)
They failed, but democracy’s victory was not certain, nor is democracy’s future. That’s why we’re here today to stand against the forces in America, that value power over principle, forces that attempted a coup, a coup against the legally expressed will of the American people by sowing doubt, inventing charges of fraud and seeking to steal the 2020 election from the people. They want chaos to reign. We want the people to rule.
President Joe Biden: (15:46)
Let me be clear. This is not about me or Vice President Harris or our party. It’s about all of us. It’s about the people, it’s about America. Hear me plainly. The battle for the soul of America is not over. We must stand strong and stand together to make sure January 6th marks not the end of democracy, but the beginning of a renaissance of our democracy.
President Joe Biden: (16:15)
For the right to vote and have that vote count is democracy’s threshold of liberty. Without it, nothing is possible. But with it, anything is possible. While the denial of fair and free elections is undemocratic, it is not unprecedented. Black Americans were denied full citizenship voting rights until 1965. Women were denied the right to vote just 100 years ago.
President Joe Biden: (16:47)
The United States Supreme Court in recent years has weakened the Voting Rights Act. And now the defeated former president and his supporters used a big lie about the 2020 election to fuel torrent and torment and anti-voting laws, new laws designed to suppress your vote, to subvert our elections.
President Joe Biden: (17:12)
Here in Georgia, for years, you’ve done the hard work of democracy, registering voters, educating voters, getting voters of the polls. You’ve built a broad coalition of voters, black, white, Latino, Asian American, urban, suburban, rural, working class and middle class. And it’s worked. You’ve changed the state by bringing more people legally to the polls.
President Joe Biden: (17:42)
That’s how you won the historic collections of Senator Rafael Warnock and Senator John Ossoff. You did it. You did it the right way, the democratic way. And what’s been the reaction of Republicans in Georgia? Choose the wrong way, the undemocratic way. To them, too many people voting in a democracy is a problem. So they’re putting up obstacles.
President Joe Biden: (18:15)
For example, voting by mail is a safe and convenient way to get more people to vote. So they’re making it harder for you to vote by mail. The same way I might add, in the 2020 election, President Trump voted from behind the desk, in the White House in Florida. Dropping your ballots off to secure drop boxes. It’s safe, it’s convenient, and you get more people to vote. So they’re limiting the number of drop boxes and the hours you can use them.
President Joe Biden: (18:49)
Taking away the options has a predictable effect, longer lines at the polls, lines that can last for hours. You’ve seen it with their own eyes. People get tired, they get hungry. When the Bible teaches us to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, the new Georgia law actually makes it illegal. Think of this.
President Joe Biden: (19:14)
I mean, 2020 and now ’22, going into that election, it makes it illegal to bring your neighbors, your fellow voters, food or water while they wait line to vote. What in the hell … heck are we talking about? I mean, think about it.
President Joe Biden: (19:38)
That’s not America. That’s what it looks like when they suppress the right to vote. And here’s how they plan to subvert the election. The Georgia Republican party, the state legislature has now given itself the power to make it easier for partisan actors, their cronies, to remove local election officials. Think about that. What happened in the last election?
President Joe Biden: (20:09)
The former president and allies pursued, threatened and intimidated state and local election officials. Election workers, ordinary citizens were subject to death threats, menacing phone calls, people stalking them in their homes. Remember what the defeated former president said to the highest ranking election official, a Republican in this state? He said, quote, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.”
President Joe Biden: (20:42)
Pray, God. He didn’t say that part. He didn’t say, count the votes.” He said, find votes that he needed to win. He failed because of the courageous officials, Democrats, Republicans, who did their duty and upheld the law. But with this new law in Georgia, his loyalists will be placed in charge of state elections. What is that going to mean?
President Joe Biden: (21:15)
Well, the chances for chaos and subversion are even greater, as partisans seek the results they want, no matter what the voters have said, no matter what the count. The votes of nearly five million Georgians will be up for grabs if that law hold. It’s not just here in Georgia.
President Joe Biden: (21:37)
Last year alone, 19 states not proposed, but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights. There are nearly 400 additional bills republican members of state legislatures tried to pass. And now Republican legislators in several state have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year. Their endgame, to turn the world of voters into a mere suggestion, something states can respect or ignore.
President Joe Biden: (22:14)
Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things, voter suppression and election subversion. It’s no longer about who gets to vote. It’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all. It’s not hyperbole. This is a fact.
President Joe Biden: (22:38)
Look, this matters to all of us. The goal of the former president’s allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them. Simple as that. The facts won’t matter. Your vote won’t matter. They’ll just decide what they want and then do it. That’s the kind of power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies.
President Joe Biden: (23:06)
We must be vigilant. And the world is watching. I’ve known the majority of the world leaders, the good and the bad ones, adversaries and allies alike. They’re watching American democracy and seeing whether we can meet this moment. And that’s not hyperbole.
President Joe Biden: (23:27)
When I showed up at the G7 with seven other world leaders, there were total of nine present. Vice President Harris and I have spent our careers doing this work. I said, “America’s back.” And the response was, “For how long? For how long?” As someone who’s worked in foreign policy my whole life, I never thought I would ever hear our allies say something like that.
President Joe Biden: (23:58)
Over the past year, we directed federal agency to promote access to voting, led by the vice president. We’ve appointed top civil rights advocates to help the US Department of Justice, which has doubled its voting rights enforcement staff.
President Joe Biden: (24:15)
Today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge. Pass the Freedom to Vote Act. Pass it now, but to prevent voter suppression. So here in Georgia, there’s full access to voting by mail. There are enough drop boxes during the enough hours so they can bring food and water as well to people waiting in line. The Freedom To Vote Act takes on election subversion to protect nonpartisan electors, officials who are doing their job, from intimidation and interference, and would get dark money out of politics, create fair district maps and ending partisan gerrymandering.
President Joe Biden: (25:09)
Look, it’s also time to pass The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet. Folks, it’ll restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act of ’65, the one President Johnson signed after John Lewis was beaten, nearly killed on bloody Sunday, only to have the Supreme Court weaken it multiple times over the past decade. Restoring the Voting Rights Act would mean the Justice Department can stop discriminatory laws before they go into effect, before they go into effect. The vice president and I …
President Joe Biden: (26:03)
… into effect. The vice president and I have supported voting rights bill since day one of this administration, but each and every time Senate Republicans have blocked away. Republicans oppose, even debating the issue. You hear me? I’ve been around the Senate a long time. I was vice president of eight years. I’ve never seen a circumstance where not one single Republican has a voice that’s ready to speak for justice now. When I was a Senator, including when I headed up the Judiciary Committee, I helped reauthorize the Voting Act three times. We held hearings. We debated. We voted. Was able to extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. In 2006, the Voting Right Act passed 390 to 33 in the House of Representatives and 98 to 0 in the Senate, with votes from 16 current sitting Republicans in this United States Senate. 16 of them voted to extend it.
President Joe Biden: (27:19)
The last year I was chairman, as some of my friends sitting down here will tell you, Strom Thurmond voted to extend the voting rights actually. Strom Thurmond.
Speaker 1: (27:32)
President Joe Biden: (27:33)
You can say that again. Wow. You have no idea how darn hard I worked on that one. But folks, then it was signed into law, the last time, by President George W. Bush. You know, when we get voting rights extended in 1980, as I said, even Thurmond supported it. Think about that. The man who led one of the longest filibusters in history in the United States Senate, 1957, against the Voting Rights Act. The man who led and sided with all Southern bulls in the United States Senate to perpetuate segregation of this nation. Even Strom Thurmond came to support voting rights. But Republicans today are can’t and won’t. Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote. Not one. Not one.
President Joe Biden: (28:37)
We have 50-50 in the United States Senate. That means we have 51 presidents. You all think I’m kidding. I’ve been pretty good at working with Senates my career, but man when you got 51 presidents, it gets harder. Any one can change the outcome. Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self. Gives me no satisfaction in saying that as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate. But as an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these Voting Rights Bills. Debate them, vote, let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option, but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.
President Joe Biden: (29:51)
You know, last year, if I’m not mistaken, the filibuster was used 154 times. The filibuster has been used to generate compromise in the past, promote some bipartisanship, but is also used to obstruct, including, especially obstruct civil rights and voting rights. And when it was used, senators traditionally used to have to stand and speak at their desk, for however long it took. And sometimes it took hours. And when they sat down, if no one immediately stood up, anyone could call for a vote or the debate ended. But that doesn’t happen today. Senators no longer even have to speak one word. Filibuster’s not used by Republicans to bring the Senate together, but to pull it further apart. Filibusters are weaponized and abused. All the state legislative assaults on voting rights is simple. All you need in your House and Senate is a pure majority. In the United States Senate, it takes a super majority, 60 votes, even get a vote, instead of 50 to protect the right to vote.
President Joe Biden: (31:08)
State legislators can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities. If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority. Today I’m making it clear. To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed, to prevent a minority of Senators from blocking action on voting rights. When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate. I make this announcement with careful deliberation, recognizing the fundamental right to vote is a right from which all other rights flow. And I make it with an appeal to my Republican colleagues, to those Republicans who believe in the rule of law, restore the bipartisan tradition of voting rights. The people who restored it, who abided by it in the past were Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, George W bush. They all supported the voting rights act. Don’t let the Republican party morph into something else. Restore the institution of the Senate the way it was designed to be. Senate rules were just changed to raise the debt ceiling. So we wouldn’t renig on our debt for the first time in our history, prevent an economic crisis. That was done by simple majority.
President Joe Biden: (32:56)
As Senator Warnock said a few weeks ago in a powerful speech, ” If we change the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, we should be able to change the rules to protect the heart and soul of our democracy.” He was right. In the days that followed John Lewis’ death, there was an outpouring of praise and support across the political spectrum. But as we stand here today, it isn’t enough just to praise his memory. We must translate eulogy into action. We need to follow John Lewis’ footsteps. We need to support the bill and his name. Just a few days ago, we talked about, up in the Congress and the White House, the event coming up shortly to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. And Americans of all stripes will praise him for the content of his character. But as Dr. King’s family said before, it’s not enough to praise their father. They even said on this holiday, don’t celebrate his birthday unless you’re willing to support what he lived for and what he died for.
President Joe Biden: (34:12)
The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation’s history. We will choose. The issue is, will we choose democracy over autocracy. Light over shadows. Justice over injustice. I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend the right to vote. Our democracy against all enemies, foreign and, yes, domestic.
President Joe Biden: (34:47)
The question is, where will the institution of the United States senate stand? Every Senator, Democrat, Republican, and Independent have to declare where they stand. Not just for the moment, but for the ages. Will you stand against voter suppression? Yes or no? That’s the question they’ll answer. Will you stand against election subversion? Yes or no? Will you stand for democracy? Yes or no? There’s one thing every Senator, every American should remember. History has never been kind to those who’ve sided with voter suppression over voters rights. And it’ll be less kind for those side with election subversion.
President Joe Biden: (35:37)
So I ask every elected official in America. How do you want to be remembered at consequential moments in history? They present a choice. Do you want to be on then the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide, to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.
President Joe Biden: (36:13)
And if you do that, you will not be alone. That’s because the struggle to protect voting rights has never been born by one group alone. We saw freedom riders of every race, leaders of every faith marching arm and arm. And yes, Democrats and Republicans in Congress of the United States and in the presidency. I did not live the struggles of Douglas, Tubman, King, Lewis, Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner, countless others, known and unknown. I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds, but I walked other grounds. Because I’m so damn old, I was there as well. You think I’m kidding, man. Seems like yesterday, the first time I got arrested. Anyway. But their struggles, here. They’re the ones that opened my eyes, as a high school student in the late fifties and early sixties. They got me more engaged in the work of my life. And what we’re talking about today is rooted in the very idea of America. The idea that Annell Ponder, who graduated from Clark Atlanta, captured in a single word. She was a teacher and a librarian, who was also an unyielding champion of voting rights. In 1963, when I was just starting college university, after registering voters in Mississippi, she was pulled off a bus, arrested and jailed where she was brutally beaten. In her cell, next to her, was Fannie Lou Hamer, who described the beating this way and I quote, “I could hear the sounds of the licks and the horrible screams. They beat her. I don’t know for how long. And after a while, she began to pray and ask God to have mercy on those people.” Annell Ponder’s friends visited her the next day. Her face was badly swollen. She could hardly talk, but she managed to whisper one word, “Freedom.” Freedom, the only word she whispered. After nearly 250 years since our founding, that singular idea still echoes, but it’s up to all of us to make sure it never fades.
President Joe Biden: (39:03)
But it’s up to all of us to make sure it never fades. Especially the students here, your generation that just started voting, as there are those who are trying to take away that vote you just started to be able to exercise. But the giants we honor today were your age when they made clear who we must be as a nation. Not a joke. Think about it. In the early sixties they were sitting where you’re sitting. They were you, and like them you give me much hope for the future. Before and after in our lives and the life of this nation, democracy is who we are, who we must be now and forever. Let’s stand in this breach together. Let’s love good, establish justice in the gate.
President Joe Biden: (40:04)
And remember, as I said, this is one of those defining moments in American history. Each of those who vote will be remembered by class after class, in the fifties and sixties, the 2000 and fifties and sixties. Each one of the members of the Senate is going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote, and where they stood after the vote. There’s no escape. Let’s get back to work. As my grandfather Finnegan used to say, “Every time I walked out the door in Scranton,” he’d say, “Joey, keep the faith.” Then he’d say, “No, Joey, spread it.” Let’s spread the faith and get this done. May God bless you all, and may God protect the sacred right to vote. Thank you. I mean it. Let’s go get this done. Thank you.