National Constitution Center Philadelphia, PA July 13 2:46 P.M. EDT
Thank you. (Applause.) I see an awful lot of good friends out there. Please have a seat if you have one.
I — let me begin by saying I used to be important. (Laughter.) I used to be the chairman of the board of this place. And Jeffrey Rosen allowed me to do that for a while.
But thank you all for being here. I truly appreciate it. Governor, it's above and beyond the call. Mr. Mayor, I'd compli- — I thought you were a great mayor — still think you are — but your judgment in fiancées is even stronger. And — but — but all of you. And a good friend, Bobby Brady. I see so many friends out. Al Sharpton — Al, how are you, pal? It's great to see you. (Applause.)
And I'm — I'm going to get in trouble here because I'm going to recognize my congresswoman from the state of Delaware, Lisa Blunt Rochester — (applause) — and her sister who used to run my office. Stand up. (Applause.)
Well, folks, good afternoon. There's a serious subject I'd like to talk about today. I'm here in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center — the city and the place where the story of "We the People" — "We the People" began.
It's a story that's neither simple nor straightforward. That's because the story is the sum of our parts, and all those parts are fundamentally human. And being human is to be imperfect, driven by appetite and ambition as much as by goodness and grace.
But some things in America should be simple and straightforward.
Perhaps the most important of those things — the most fundamental of those things — is the right to vote. The right to vote freely. (Applause) The right to vote freely, the right — the right to vote fairly, the right to have your vote counted. The democratic threshold is liberty. With it, anything is possible. Without it, nothing — nothing.
And for our democracy and the work — and to deliver our work and [for] our people, it's up to all of us to protect that right. This is a test of our time and what I'm here to talk about today.
Just think about the past election.
A 102-year-old woman in Arkansas who voted for the first time on the very spot she once picked cotton.
A 94-year-old woman in Michigan who voted early and in person in her seventy-se- — 72nd consecutive election. You know what she said? She said this election was, quote, "the most important vote that we ever had."
The daughter who voted in the memory of her dad who died of COVID-19 so others wouldn't have the experience of pain and darkness and loss that she was going through. Patients out there.
And the parents — the parents who voted for school their children will learn in.
Sons and daughters voted for the planet they're going to live on.
Young people just turning 18 and everyone who, for the first time in their lives, thought they could truly make a difference.
America — America and Americans of every background voted. They voted for good jobs and higher wages. They voted for racial equity and justice. They voted to make healthcare a right, not a privilege.
And the reason that Americans went to vote and the lengths they went to vote — to be able to vote in this past election were absolutely extraordinary. In fact, the fact that so many election officials across the country made it easier and safer for them to be able to vote in the middle of a pandemic was remarkable.
As a result, in 2020, more people voted in America than ever — ever in the history of America, in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic. (Applause.)
All told, more than 150 [million] Americans of every age, of every race, of every background exercised their right to vote.
They voted early. They voted absentee. They voted in person. They voted by mail. They voted by drop box. And then they got their families and friends to go out and vote.
Election officials, the entire electoral system, withstood unrelenting political attacks, physical threats, intimidation, and pressure. They did so with unyielding courage and
faith in our democracy.
With recount after recount after recount, court case after court case, the 2020 election was the most scrutinized election ever in American history. Challenge after challenge brought to local, state, and election officials; state legislatures; state and federal courts — even to the United States Supreme Court not once, but twice.
More than 80 judges, including those appointed by my predecessor, heard the arguments. In every case, neither cause nor evidence was found to undermine the national achievement of administering this historic election in the face of such extraordinary challenges.
Audits, recounts were conducted in Arizona, in Wisconsin. In Georgia, it was recounted three times.
It's clear. For those who challenge the results and question the integrity of the election: No other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and such high standards.
The Big Lie is just that: a big lie. (Applause.)
The 2020 election — it's not hyperbole to suggest — the most examined and the fullest expression of the will of the people in the history of this nation. This should be celebrated — the 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.
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. (Applause.)
That's not statesmanship; that's selfishness. That's not democracy; it's the denial of the right to vote. It suppresses. It subjugates.
The denial of full and free and fair elections is the most un-American thing that any of us can imagine, the most undemocratic, the most unpatriotic, and yet, sadly, not unprecedented.
From denying enslaved people fu- — full citizenship until the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments after the Civil War; to denying women the right to vote until the 19th Amendment 100 years ago; to poll taxes and literacy tests, and the Ku Klux Klan campaigns of violence and terror that lasted into the '50s and '60s; to the Supreme Court decision in 2013 and then again just two weeks ago -- a decision that weakened the landmark Voting Rights Act; to the willful attacks — election attacks in 2020; and then to a whole other level of threat — the violence and the deadly insurrection on the Capitol on January 6th.
I just got back from Europe, speaking to the G7 and to NATO. They wonder — not a joke — they wonder, Gov — they ask me, "Is it going to be okay?" The citadel of democracy in the world, "Is it o- — going to be okay?"
Time and again, we've weathered threats to the right to vote in free and fair elections. And each time, we found a way to overcome. And that's what we must do today.
Vice President Harris and I have spent our careers doing this work. And I've asked her to lead, to bring people together to protect the right to vote and our democracy. And it starts with continuing the fight to pass H.R.1, the For the People Act. (Applause.)
That bill — that bill would help end voter suppression in the states, get dark money out of politics, give voice to the people at the grassroots level, create a fairer district maps, and end partisan political gerrymandering.
Last month, Republicans opposed even debating, even considering For the People Act. Senate Democrats stood united to protect our democracy and the sanctity of the vote. We must pass the For the People Act. It's a national imperative.
We must also fight for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand — (applause) — to restore and expand voting protections and prevent voter suppression. All the congresswomen and men here — there's a bunch of you — you knew John, many of you.
Just weeks ago, the Supreme Court yet again weakened the Voting Rights Act and upheld what Justice Kagan called, quote, "a significant race-based disparity in voting opportunities."
The Court's decision, as harmful as is, does not limit the — Congress' ability to repair the damage done. That's the important point. It puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength.
As soon as Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, I will sign it and let the whole world see it. (Applause.) That will be an important moment.
And the world is wondering — the world is wondering — and Dwight knows what I'm talking about, for real. You know, the world is wondering, "What is America going to do?"
But we also have to clear-eyed about the obstruction we face. Legislation is one tool, but not the only tool. And it's not the only measure of our obligation to defend democracy today.
For example, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the United States Department of Justice is going to be using its authorities to challenge the onslaught of state laws undermining voting rights in old and new ways. (Applause.)
The focus — the focus will be on dismantling racially discriminatory laws, like the recent challenge to Georgia's vicious anti-voting law.
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