Voting Rights Row: Biden Will 'Use Every Lever' to Advocate for Voting Rights, White House Says

Live Updates

President Joe Biden labeled Republicans "bullies and merchants of fear" in a blistering attack on attempts to reform U.S. voting laws. He said in a speech the reforms were "threatening the very foundation of our country" and called on elected officials to "act to protect our democracy."

Top GOP officials have been working across several states, most prominently Texas, to pass controversial new restrictions on how Americans vote in future elections.

Proposals include the banning drive-thru polling stations, limiting mail-in ballots and restricting who can hand in ballot papers on behalf of others.

Several Democrats are calling to end or tweak the filibuster in order for Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a press briefing Wednesday said the filibuster is a "legislative procedural process" and that it is "up to the Senate to determine the path forward on."

Even if the filibuster remains, Psaki said Biden is confident he will "use ever lever" to advocate for voting rights.

"We don't accept there isn't a path forward," she said.

Other Republicans are debating them as the GOP continues to seize on former President Donald Trump's false claim of massive voter fraud in November as a justification for major changes to voting laws.

"In America, if you lose, you accept the results," Biden said at National Constitution Center. "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. That's selfishness."

His remarks came after Texas Democrats fled for Washington D.C. in an attempt to delay a vote on a Republican-led bill that would restrict voting bills in their state.

Psaki said that Biden applauds their "bold actions" in opposition to state laws that impose "restrictions on people's fundamental rights."

Biden Meets With Democrats in Senate
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. President Joe Biden speak briefly to reporters as they arrive at the U.S. Capitol for a Senate Democratic luncheon July 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Harris meets with disability advocates to discuss voting rights

Vice President Kamala Harris met Wednesday with advocates for Americans with disabilities to discuss how to include their voices in efforts to expand voting rights.

"You represent the experience, the life and the voice of so many Americans whose voices and whose perspcetive must be represented in all these rooms at all of these tables," Harris said before the discussion began.

"Because if we are truly and democracy it means we have a representative government that reflects the experience and the life of all the people in our country and I think we have a lot more work to do in this regard as it related to our fellow Americans with disabilities."

Kamala Harris Disability Advocates
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks at the start of a roundtable discussion on voting rights for people living with disabilities in her ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Fair Fight launches new initiative to bolster voting rights

Fair Fight, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, is launching the second wave of its "Hot Call Summer" campaign to educate minority and progressive voters about federal voting rights bills.

"Hot Call Summer 2.0" is getting the word out about the "For the People Act" and the "John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act" and is pushing for other progressive provisions to be included in the legislation.

Thanks to the 40,000 (!) calls made by advocates across the country, we secured Democratic unity on the #ForThePeopleAct. But the work continues. We're relaunching #HotCallSummer to keep pushing Congress to pass #S1 and #RestoreTheVRA to ensure every voter's voice can be heard. https://t.co/bPYvCEyqxE

— Fair Fight (@fairfightaction) July 14, 2021

Such provisions include expanding mail-in voting, reducing long lines at poling centers, ending threats towards polling workers and voter intimidation, ensuring fair districts are drawn and ending partisan gerrymandering.

"Fair Fight Action is turning the heat up on Congress all summer long to ensure they take immediate action to establish minimum national voting standards and restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act," Hillary Holley, the Director of Organizing for Fair Fight Action told CBS News. "With the recent Supreme Court decision on Brnovich v. DNC further weakening the Voting Rights Act, the urgent need for federal action to protect the freedom to vote is greater than ever."

Psaki says restrictive voting laws require "bold action"

During a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also defended the Texas democrats who fled to D.C. to delay a vote on a Republican-led effort to pass restrictive voting bills in their state.

"The president's view is that these Texas legislators were making a statement through action in opposition to efforts in their state to oppose restrictions on people's fundamental rights...to vote in their state," she told reporters.

She said leaders need "bold action and bold voices" to speak out against the 28 states with laws in place or in process to make it harder to vote.

"The president applauds their actions and their outspoken opposition to efforts to put in place restrictive measures in the state," she said.

She added that Biden encourages the lawmakers to "work together [with Republicans] in areas where you can find agreement" moving forward and that they should continue to "be outspoken when you have concerns about affronts to democracy."

Jen Psaki welcomes Peter Doocy back to the White House briefing by stomping his terrible Fox News propaganda question on voting rights into dust. pic.twitter.com/O5YPOnvVzW

— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) July 14, 2021

Jen Psaki says Biden will leave filibuster issue to the Senate

During a press conference Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reaffirmed that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will leave the issue of filibuster reform to the Senate.

"In terms of the filibuster, it a legislative procedural process that is up to the Senate to determine the path forward on," Psaki told reporters. "There is not the majority to support that."

While some Democrats have expressed their belief that ending or tweaking the filibuster is the only way to pass voting rights legislation, Psaki assured reporters that Biden is more optimistic.

"We don't accept there isn't a path forward," she said.

She said that Biden will "use every lever to advocate" for voting rights and will continue to engage with leaders to pass legislation.

McConnell calls Biden's speech 'utter nonsense'

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Biden's speech comparing current voting laws to Jim Crow yesterday "utter nonsense."

"What utter nonsense," he said. "It would be laugh-out-loud funny if it weren't so irresponsible."

McConnell on Biden's voting rights speech yesterdat that compared current voting laws to Jim Crow and the greatest threat to democracy since the civil war: "What utter nonsense. It would be laugh-out-loud funny if it weren't so irresponsible."

— Grace Panetta (@grace_panetta) July 14, 2021

McConnell spoke to the Senate Wednesday, accusing Democrats of promoting "big lies and fake outrage" over Republican voting laws.

He accused Democrats of "lying to the American people about the health of our democracy" and defended GOP voting measures as "simple, fair and popular."

"The longer these fake hysterics keep up, the more Americans will keep wondering why Democrats are this desperate to seize control over voting laws," he said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell: "Americans want to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat." pic.twitter.com/FMyYTtKjeB

— The Hill (@thehill) July 14, 2021

More than 160 companies urge Congress to pass voting rights act

A group of more than 160 companies has signed a letter urging lawmakers to pass voting rights legislation.

The companies, including Apple, PepsiCo, Google and Starbucks, have convened under the name Bussiness for Voting Rights to call upon Congress to create "federal protections to safeguard this fundamental right [of voting] for all Americans."

Therefore, the letter asked Congress to reintroduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, an amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in order to "prevent voting discrimination, as well as establish a more transparent and accountable system for states to report election law changes."

"Legislation amending the Voting Rights Act must help ensure that voters of color who remain the targets of voter suppression have equal and unfettered access to the democratic process," the letter said.

At @UnderArmour, we believe everyone should have equal access to voting. That’s why we’ve joined 160 other corporations in the push to urge Congress to introduce and pass the #JohnLewisVotingRightsAct, protecting voters against discrimination.

📰 more: https://t.co/E5JftcH5zC

— Patrik Frisk (@PatrikFrisk) July 14, 2021

While each company is unique, the letter said, "we are united in the belief that every American deserves a voice in our democracy."

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said that joining this coalition builds on the company's efforts to support its employees and customers exercise their right to vote.

"We believe civic engagement is critical in building stronger communities and we will continue to provide tools and resources to help you use your voice to make a difference in your communities," Johnson said in a statement to employees.

"The struggle for civil rights and racial equity in America exists in every aspect of our society, and the democratic process is no exception," he continued. "We believe that voting should be free of discrimination of any kind."

Vice President Harris wants to protect voting rights 'from many different angles'

Vice President Kamala Harris believes the key to expanding voting rights is to address the issue "from many different angles."

In addition to passing legislation, Harris told NPR that she is committed to "putting resources into the people on the ground and the work on the ground" to empower people to exercise their right to vote.

Harris said this type of work on the ground includes getting people registers, educating people about the threats to their voting rights and turning out voters.

Coalition-building and facilitating conversations between leaders and their constituents are also essential "to get an accurate sense of how people are experiencing this issue... and make sure that the realities of this issue are being heard and well understood," Harris said.

She said she is meeting with folks in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Michigan, as well as a group of leaders among people with disabilities.

Today, I spoke with activists about how we can defend and strengthen voting rights in Michigan and across the country. Our vote is our power—and we can’t let anyone take it away. pic.twitter.com/wDOYEfKgIM

— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) July 13, 2021

She added that she applauds the work of the Department of Justice to take up litigation against state laws that "are trying to make it more difficult for people to vote so that they won't vote."

"I think about it in the context of laws that are going to make it difficult for working people to vote. It's just wrong," she said. "And it's not about partisanship. It really is about the rights that all people should be entitled to, regardless of their party affiliation."

Democrats believe ending the filibuster is key to passing voting rights laws

Many democratic leaders believe that the filibuster is the main roadblock preventing Congress from passing voting rights legislation.

"We must end the filibuster," California Representative Adam Shift tweeted. "There is simply no other way."

The stakes are high. Voting rights, health care, climate change, and so much more — they’re all on the line.

The people who voted and organized and marched expect action. The country demands it. 

The path is clear. We must end the filibuster.

There is simply no other way.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) July 14, 2021

South Carolina Representative James Clyburn has proposed a middle-ground plan to tweak how and when the filibuster is used.

"I used to want to get rid of the whole thing, but [Senator Joe Manchin] has convinced me there is a place for extended debate on legislative issues," Clyburn told Rachel Maddow.

Clyburn is suggesting that Congress carves out an exception to the filibuster so that they can "treat constitutional issues the same way we treat budget issues."

Our democracy is at a dangerous inflection point.

Carving out an exception to the filibuster for constitutional and voting rights would ensure we can continue our pursuit of a more perfect union.

Like @POTUS said today, “The whole world is watching.”

— James E. Clyburn (@WhipClyburn) July 13, 2021

Congress moves the budget forward with a simple majority as not to threaten the credit of the United States, Clyburn explained. He believes voting rights and constitutional matters should also be discussed without the filibuster application.

"The filibuster I think has its place, but not when it comes to voting and other constitutional issues," he said.

In an interview with NPR, Vice President Kamala Harris was asked if she agrees with Clyburn's proposal.

Harris said this is a matter for both Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work out.

"I believe that of all of the issues that the United States Congress can take up, the right to vote is the right that unlocks all the other rights," she said. "Now, the members of the Senate are going to have to address this and we're going to continue to work to find a path forward, no matter how difficult."

Watch: Texas Democrats sing 'We Shall Overcome' on Capitol Hill

Dozens of elected representatives who walked out of the Texas House to delay a vote on changing voting laws sang the classic protest song as they continue to pile pressure on President Biden and top Democrats make the issue a priority.

Why are Texas Democrats in Washington?

Now a focus of the debate around voting restrictions, 50 Democrat legislators walked out of a special session on new voting restrictions on Monday and flew to Washington D.C. to protest.

The aim of the group is to deprive the Texas House of a quorum to hold a vote on the plans, which will ban drive-thru voting and impose strict measures on mail-in ballots. The group is set to meet President Biden and VP Kamala Harris this week, following the president's passionate speech on the issue on Tuesday.

Has it happened before and does it work?

In 2003, Texas Democrats fled to New Mexico to prevent a vote on a controversial redistricting plan for the state but the proposals were passed when the legislators eventually returned to the building.

The hope for Democrats is that national legislation, currently being filibustered by Republicans in the Senate, will be passed to override much of the plans individual states have for voting laws.

Watch back: Key moments from Joe Biden's speech

After weeks of pressure from Democrat allies, the president hit out against proponents of voting reform in one of his most passionate speeches to date since taking office.

He decried Republican attempts to change the voting system as "dark" and "sinister" but stopped short of addressing attempts by the GOP to derail national legislation to undo voter law changes passed by individual states.

Watch the key moments below.

Texas Governor accuses Biden of 'spreading misinformation' over voting rights

Greg Abbott (R) said in a video posted online that the President was "calling Texas names again" and accused him of ignoring facts about voter fraud.

"The Texas law also helps to prevent mail-in ballot fraud in Texas - that is an issue that both Republicans and Democrats agree on. It will uphold the integrity of our elections and ensure that Texans who do qualify to vote by mail will have the ability to do so.

"President Biden and the Democrats must stop the misinformation. Texas is very simply making it easier to vote and harder to cheat."

Biden has a pattern of spreading misinformation & he's at it again today.

The #txlege is passing a law that EXPANDS early voting hours & prevents mail-in ballot fraud.

Texas is making it EASIER to vote & harder to cheat. pic.twitter.com/DGTob0obYc

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) July 13, 2021

Willie Nelson tells Americans to 'fight back' against Republican voting changes

Legendary musician Willie Nelson has announced his support for the campaign against voting restrictions.

In a video posted on Democrat Beto O'Rourke's Twitter account he told viewers to "jump in there and fight back."

“Let’s jump in there and fight back now, c’mon!”

BIG thanks to @WillieNelson and Annie Nelson for generously matching the next $5K in donations to support Texas Democrats in their fight for voting rights!

Donate here: https://t.co/UEwanrvhZ0 pic.twitter.com/V2iHlSfSXT

— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 13, 2021

Which voting rights are Republicans attempting to change?

State legislators are currently battling to pass a new raft of voting reforms to combat alleged "widespread voter fraud" in the U.S.

Proposals include the banning of drive-thru in Texas, which Republican legislators claim has a "coercive effect" on voters. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) claims this style of voting "violates" the "sanctity of the ballot box".

Others include the restriction of mail-in ballots - the cause of much of the controversy at last year's Presidential Election result - which former President Donald Trump and his allies claim contributed to the alleged fraud.

It is not the first time Republicans have attempted to block certain types of voting. Days before the 2020 Presidential Election, activists in Texas failed in a court battle to discount drive-thru voting. But several states have since passed similar legislation in the months following the election, with 17 states enacting 28 new voting laws as of June 21.

Democrats have attempted to block the changes with little success in Republican-controlled states and continue to put pressure on Joe Biden to speak up.

Person votes at drive-thru polling station
A voter casts their vote for President at a drive-thru polling station in November 2020. Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's Liveblog

As the row over voting rights reform deepens, President Joe Biden has delivered blistering remarks against top Republicans.

State legislatures across the U.S. are battling over whether to restrict mail-in and drive-thru voting, with Republicans claiming the measures are needed to prevent alleged fraud following the 2020 elections.

But Biden yesterday said the proposals are "threatening the very foundation of our country" and lashed out at those co-opting the debunked arguments around voter fraud to push a "dark" and "sinister" agenda.

Follow the latest on the story with Newsweek throughout Wednesday...