Biden and Harris deliver voting rights speech in Atlanta

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 5:11 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022
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4:50 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Biden to Congress: "Pass the Freedom to Vote Act”

From CNN's Leinz Vales

(Patrick Semansky/AP)
(Patrick Semansky/AP)

President Biden called on Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act as he spoke about voting rights and election reform in his speech in Atlanta, ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"Today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge," Biden said. "Pass the Freedom to Vote Act! Pass it now! Which should prevent voter suppression."

"The Freedom to Vote Act takes on election subversion to protect nonpartisan electors, officials who are doing their job from intimidation and interference," Biden added. "We'll get dark money out of politics, create fair district maps and ending partisan gerrymandering."

Biden also called on lawmakers to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, another measure that would bolster voting protections and create national standards to combat voter suppression.

"It's also time to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act," Biden said. "I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired of being quiet!"

"Folks, it will restore the strength of the Voting Rights act of 1965, the one President Johnson signed after John Lewis was beaten, nearly killed, on "Bloody Sunday," he added.

4:43 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Biden calls for getting rid of the filibuster to pass election reform

President Biden said that the filibuster has been "weaponized and abused" by Republicans in the Senate to block legislation.

The President said that he supports changing the Senate rules and eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

"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," he said.

He said that he is making this recommendation to get rid of the filibuster "with careful deliberation."

"And I make this announcement with careful deliberation, recognizing the fundamental right to vote is a right from which all other rights flow," Biden said.
5:01 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Harris says Republicans have "exploited" filibuster rules to block voting rights

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

(Patrick Semansky/AP)
(Patrick Semansky/AP)

Vice President Kamala Harris slammed Republicans for obstructing voting rights legislation, saying they have “exploited” filibuster rules to block legislation.

“The Constitution of the United States gives the Congress the power to pass legislation,” Harris said in Atlanta. “And nowhere, nowhere does the Constitution give a minority the right to unilaterally block legislation. The American people have waited long enough.”

Harris’ remarks served as a preamble to President Biden, who is expected to lay out what changes he supports to the filibuster rules to allow voting rights legislation.

Harris called for two key voting rights bills to pass immediately, as a form of justice after a Supreme Court ruling that walked back provisions.

“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,” Harris said.

In a direct shot to Republicans who chalk the Democratic efforts on voting rights up to political games, Harris said, “My fellow Americans, do not succumb to those who would dismiss this assault on voting rights as an unfounded threat, would wave this off as a partisan game.”

She added, “The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American in every community in every political party. “

Harris ended by saying party leaders cannot tell their children they didn’t pass legislation because “we let a Senate rule stand in the way of our most fundamental freedom. 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 because then and their children,” she added.

4:33 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Biden: Republicans' end game is to turn the will of the voters into "a mere suggestion"

(Patrick Semansky/AP)
(Patrick Semansky/AP)

President Biden went after "Republican legislators in several states" who "have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught" on voting this year by passing new laws in their states that restrict voting.

"Their end game, to turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion. Something states can respect or ignore. 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," Biden said.

He said that the goal of former President Donald Trump and his allies is to "disenfranchise anyone who votes against them." 

"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. We must be vigilant. And the world is watching," he said.
4:25 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Biden: Capitol insurrection is a "before and after" moment for American democracy

(Pool)
(Pool)

President Biden, speaking about voting rights and election reform in Atlanta, called the insurrection at the US Capitol last January a "before and after" moment — and now Americans must "confront hard truths" and decide how to move on to preserve American democracy.

"In our lives — in the life of our nation — there are moments so stark that they divide all that came before and everything that followed," Biden said. "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."

The Jan. 6 Capitol riot is "one of those before and after moments in American history," Biden said, calling it an "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," Biden said.

4:21 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Harris: Country must not be deceived into thinking anti-voting laws are normal

Vice President Harris decried the growing slew of laws being passed across the country that restrict voting, saying that the nation should not be "deceived into thinking they are normal."

Harris referenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., noting that he said that the only normalcy that should be accepted "is the normalcy of justice."

"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 law as though they are normal, a danger of being complacent, complicit," Harris said.

"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," the vice president continued in the speech.

"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 pass out water or food to salespeople standing in long voting lines," Harris added.

The vice president went on to speak about the voting law passed in Georgia, saying that she has heard the "outrage."

"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," she said.

In the last year, 19 states passed 34 laws that restrict voting in some way, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. And more changes are expected as state legislatures convene early this year.

4:25 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

VP Harris: "We will fight to safeguard our democracy"

(Pool)
(Pool)

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke first during todays remarks on voting rights. She began by noting that she and President Biden spoke last week on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection about the need to "fight to safeguard our democracy."

"We swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And we will. We will fight. We will fight to safeguard our democracy. We will fight to secure our most fundamental freedom, the freedom to vote," she said.

During her speech, Harris referenced a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. on the dangers of accepting the "normalcy" of "denying people the freedom to vote."

"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 capitol in Alabama, Dr. King decried what he called normalcy — the normalcy, the complacency that was denying people the freedom to vote."

She continued: "The only normalcy anyone should accept, Dr. King said, is the normalcy of justice. And his words resonate today."

4:10 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

NOW: Biden and Harris speak about voting rights as Democrats face hurdles to advance legislation

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez, Jeremy Diamond and Kate Sullivan

(Pool)
(Pool)

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are delivering a speech on voting rights in Atlanta as Democrats face pressure to pass two pieces of pending legislation opposed by nearly all Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Harris, whom Biden appointed to lead the administration's work on voting rights, is joining the President on the visit alongside several members of Congress, local officials and civil rights leaders.

Changing the filibuster rules in the Senate, which require 60 votes to end debate on legislation, is set to be a major focus of the day —  and Biden's address specifically.

The President's speech in Atlanta is the latest in his recurring calls for the nation's voting rights to be bolstered.

During his speech in Georgia, which will take place on the grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, Biden "will forcefully advocate for protecting the most bedrock American right: The right to vote and have your voice counted in a free, fair and secure election that is not tainted by partisan manipulation," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.

Read more about Biden's speech here.

4:05 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Biden on whether he has the votes for voting legislation: "Keep the faith"

From CNN's Sam Fossum

When entering Ebenezer Church ahead of his remarks this afternoon, President Biden said people should "keep the faith" when asked if he has the votes needed to move on voting rights legislation. 

The President, who was greeted by Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, did not answer a shouted question from the pool about his message to those who believe he hasn't done enough on voting rights. 

Vice President Kamala Harris and Biden are both slated to deliver remarks on voting rights soon.