President Joe Biden delivered a speech on July 8 on actions he is taking to protect access to reproductive health care services in light of the Supreme Court overturning the constitutional protections afforded by Roe v. Wade and multiple states immediately implementing bans on abortion rights, in most cases even in the case of rape, incest or the life of the mother. But the President noted that there is only so much he could do by Executive Order or that his administration can do, and exhorted women to take action at the ballot box, elect representatives to local, state and federal office who will protect their personal freedom, liberty and autonomy. Here is a highlighted transcript of his remarks: — Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Now, with the Vice President, Secretary Becerra, and Deputy Attorney General Monaco, I want to talk about an executive order I’m signing to protect reproductive rights of women in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s terrible, extreme, and, I think, so totally wrongheaded decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
[It] both formalized actions I announced right after the decision, as well as adding new measures today.
Let’s be clear about something from the very start. This was not a decision driven by the Constitution. Let me say it again: This was not a decision driven by the Constitution. And despite what those justices in the majority said, this was not a decision driven by history.
You’ve all probably had a chance to the read the decision and the dissent.
The majority rattles off laws from the 19th century to support the idea that Roe was historic- — was a historical anomaly because states outlawed abortion in the 1880s, toward the end. But that’s just wrong.
The truth is today’s Supreme Court majority that is playing fast and loose with the facts. Even 150 years ago, the common law and many state laws did not criminalize abortion early in pregnancy, which is very similar to the viability line drawn by Roe.
But the Dobbs majority ignores that fact. And the Dobbs majority ignores that many laws were enacted to protect women at the time when they were dying from unsafe abortions.
This is the horrific reality that Roe sought to end. The practice of medicine should not — emphasize — should not be frozen in the 19th century.
So, what happened?
The dissenting opinion says it as clear as you can possibly say it. And here’s the quote: “Neither law nor facts nor attitudes have provided any new reason to reach a different result than Roe and Casey did.” And that’s has changed — excuse me — and “All that has changed is this Court.” End of quote. “All that has changed is this Court.”
That wasn’t about the Constitution or the law.
It was about a deep, long-seething antipathy towards Roe and the broader right to privacy. As the justices wrote in their dissent, and I quote, “The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them.” End of quote.
So, what we’re witnessing wasn’t a constitutional judgment. It was an exercise in raw political power. On the day the Dobbs decision came down, I immediately announced what I would do.
But I also made it clear, based on the reasoning of the Court, there is no constitutional right to choose. Only the way — the only way to fulfill and restore that right for women in this country is by voting, by exercising the power at the ballot box.
Let me explain. We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law. Your vote can make that a reality.
I know it’s frustrating and it made a lot of people very angry. But the truth is this — and it’s not just me saying it; it’s what the Court said: When you read the decision, the Court has made clear it will not protect the rights of women. Period. Period.
After having made the decision based on a reading of a document that was frozen in time in the 1860s, when women didn’t even have the right to vote, the Court now — now — practically dares the women of America to go to the ballot box and restore the very rights they’ve just taken away.
One of the most extraordinary parts of the decision, in my view, is the majority writes, and I quote, “Women…” — it’s a quote now, from the majority — “Women are not without electoral or political power. It is noteworthy that the percentage of women who registered to vote and cast a ballot is consistently higher than the percentage of the men who do so.” End of quote…
That’s another way of saying that you, the women of America, can determine the outcome of this issue.
I don’t think the Court or, for that matter, the Republicans who for decades have pushed their extreme agenda have a clue about the power of American women. But they’re about to find out, in my view.
It’s my hope and strong belief that women will, in fact, turn out in record numbers to reclaim the rights that have taken from them by the Court.
And let me be clear: While I wish it had not come to this, this is the fastest route available. I’m just stating a basic, fundamental notion.
The fastest way to restore Roe is to pass a national law codifying Roe, which I will sign immediately upon its passage at my desk.
And we can’t wait. Extreme Republican governors, extreme Republican state legislatures, and Republican extremists in the Congress overall — all of them have not only fought to take away the right — our rights — but they’re now determined to go as far as they can.
Now the most extreme Republican governors and state legislatures have taken the Court’s decision as a green light to impose some of the harshest and most restrictive laws seen in this country in a long time. These are the laws that not only put women’s lives at risk, these are the laws that will cost lives.
What we’re witnessing is a giant step backwards in much of our country. Already, the bans are in effect in 13 states. Twelve additional states are likely to ban choice in the coming weeks. And in a number of these states, the laws are so extreme they have raised the threat of criminal penalties for doctors and healthcare providers. They’re so extreme that many don’t allow for exceptions, even for rape or incest. Let me say that again: Some of the states don’t allow for exceptions for rape or incest.
This isn’t some imagined horror. It’s already happening. Just last week, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl was a rape victim in Ohio — 10 years old — and she was forced to have to travel out of the state, to Indiana, to seek to terminate the [pregnancy] and maybe save her life. That’s — the last part is my judgment. Ten years old. Ten years old. Raped, six weeks pregnant. Already traumatized. Was forced to travel to another state. Imagine being that little girl. Just — I’m serious — just imagine being that little girl. Ten years old.
Does anyone believe that it’s the highest majority view that that should not be able to be dealt with, or in any other state in the nation? A 10-year-old girl should be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child? I can tell you what: I don’t. I can’t think of anything as much more extreme.
The Court’s decision has also been received by Republicans in Congress as a green light to go further and pass a national ban. A national ban. Remember what they’re saying. They’re saying there’s no right to privacy, so therefore it’s not protected by the Constitution, so leave it up to the state and the Congress, what they want to do.
And now my Republican friends are talking about getting the Congress to pass a national ban. The extreme positions that they’re taking in some of these states. That will mean the right to choose will be illegal nationwide if, in fact, they succeed. Let me tell you something: As long as I’m President, it won’t happen, because I’ll veto it.
So the choice is clear. If you want to change the circumstances for women and even little girls in this country, please go out and vote. When tens of millions of women vote this year, they won’t be alone. Millions and millions of men will be taking up the fight alongside them to restore the right to choose and the broader right to privacy in this nation, which they denied existed. And the challenge from the Court to the American women and men — this is a nation. The challenge is: Go out and vote. Well, for God’s sake, there’s an election in November. Vote, vote, vote, vote. Consider the challenge accepted, Court.
But in the meantime, I’m signing this important executive order. I’m asking the Justice Department that, much like they did in the Civil Rights era, to do something — do everything in their power to protect these women seeking to invoke their right:
In states where clinics are still open, to protect them from intimidation.
To protect the right of women to travel from a state that prohibits seeking the medical attention that she needs to a state to provide that care.
To protect a woman’s right to the FDA-approved — Federal Drug Administration-approved medication that’s been available for over 20 years.
The executive order provides safeguards to access care. A patient comes into the emergency room in any state in the union. She’s expressing and experiencing a life-threatening miscarriage, but the doctor is going to be so concerned about being criminalized for treating her, they delay treatment to call the hospital lawyer who is concerned the hospital will be penalized if a doctor provides the lifesaving care. It’s outrageous. I don’t care what your position is. It’s outrageous, and it’s dangerous.
That’s why this executive order directs the Department of Health and Human Services — HHS — to ensure all patients, including pregnant women and girls experience pregnant — experiencing pregnancy loss get emergency care they need under federal law, and that doctors have clear guidance on their own responsibilities and protections no matter what the state — no matter what state they’re in.
The executive order protects access to contraception — that I’m about to sign.
Justice Thomas himself said that under the reasoning of this decision — this is what Justice Thomas said in his concurring opinion — that the Court “should reconsider the constitutional right to contraception — to use contraception even among married couples.
What century are they in? There used to be a case called –[Griswold v. Connecticut], which was declared unconstitutional in the late ‘60s. It said a married couple in the privacy of their bedroom could not decide to use contraception.
Right now, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Affordable Care Act guarantees insurance coverage for women’s health services, including — including free birth control. The executive order directs HHS to identify ways to expand access to reproductive health services, like IUDs, birth control pills, emergency contraception.
And equally important, this executive order protects patient privacy and access to information, which looking at the press assembled before me, probably know more about it than I do. I’m not a tech guy. I’m learning.
But right now, when you use a search engine or the app on your phone, companies collect your data, they sell it to other companies, and they even share it with law enforcement. There’s an increasing concern that extremist governors and others will try to get that data off of your phone, which is out there in the ether, to find what you’re seeking, where you’re going, and what you’re doing with regard to your healthcare.
Talk about no privacy — no privacy in the Constitution. There’s no privacy, period.
This executive order asks the FTC to crack down on data brokers that sell private information to extreme groups or, in my view, sell private information to anybody.
It provides private health information — it protects private health information in states with extreme laws.
And the executive order strengthens coordination at a federal level. It establishes a task force, led by the White House Department — and the Department of Human Services, focused specifically on using every federal tool available to protect access to reproductive healthcare.
You know, let me close with this: The Court and its allies are committed to moving America backward with fewer rights, less autonomy, and politicians invading the most personal of decisions. Remember the reasoning of this decision has an impact much beyond Roe and the right to privacy generally.
Marriage equality, contraception, and so much more is at risk. This decision affects everyone — unrelated to choice — beyond choice. We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court, working in conjunction with the extremist elements of the Republican Party, to take away freedoms and our personal autonomy.
The choice we face as a nation is between the mainstream and the extreme, between moving forward and moving backwards, between allowing politicians to enter the most personal parts of our lives and protecting the right to privacy — yes, yes — embedded in our Constitution.
This is a choice. This is a moment — the moment — the moment to restore the rights that have been taken away from us and the moment to protect our nation from an extremist agenda that is antithetical to everything we believe as Americans.
Now, I’m going to sign this executive order.
The executive order is “Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Services.”
This week, President Biden signed into law the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022, bipartisan legislation passed by Congress as part of the Omnibus appropriations package. In remarks at the signing, President Biden reflected on having authored the original VAWA, and during Women’s History Month, when Republican-led states are passing cruel and unconstitutional restrictions on women’s reproductive rights and their rights to self-determination, said:
It really wasn’t so long ago this country didn’t want to talk about violence against women, let alone as being a national epidemic, something the government had to address.
As a society, we literally looked away. We looked away. In many places, it wasn’t a crime. And I don’t recall — I don’t recall how many times I was told in the prelude to writing the legislation that it’s a “family affair.” “You don’t understand, Biden. It’s a family affair.”
When I began, along with others, to pursue this legislation to change this — this issue, we were told that we would literally be responsible for the “disintegration” of American families in the major press. It wasn’t just the wackos; it was in the mainstream press.
And we talked about creating shelters to give survivors a way out because so many don’t have a way out, and their children — by the way, the vast majority of children on the street with their mothers are there because she’s a victim of domestic violence….
This law broke the dam of congressional resistance and cultural resistance. And it brought this hidden epidemic out of the shadows. You know, its introduction — it introduced our nation to so many brave survivors who those stories changed the way America saw the issue. I mean, in the literal sense, it’s hard to believe — even when I go back and think of when — how it started and where it was.
As a practical matter, things began to shift — the legal and social burdens — away from survivors and onto perpetrators and where they belonged. It made addressing general — excuse me — gender violence a shared priority with a determined, coordinated response. It created a hotline, as I said, for millions of women who have used the hotline. And again, I’ll never forget being told the first time — I said, “What did you do?” She said, “I got behind the drapes and I held the phone. And I prayed to God — prayed to God — don’t let him hear this. Pray God. Pray God.”
It supported shelters and rape crisis centers, housing and legal assistance, creating lifesaving options for women and children all across the country. And it helped train police officers, advocates, prosecutors, judges, court personnel to make the entire justice system fair and more responsive to the needs of survivors. ..
Even in 1994, we knew that there was much more we had to do — you know, that it was only the beginning. That’s why, because of all of you in this room, every time we’ve reauthorized this law, it’s been improved. It’s not like we didn’t know we wanted to do these other things in the beginning. It’s we did as much as we could and keep trying to add to it.
Broadening from domestic violence to include stalking and sexual assault in 2000. That was the change made.
Expanding access to services for immigrants and communities of color in 2005. That was a change.
Restoring jurisdiction of Tribal courts — (applause) — over non-Native domestic violence offenders who abuse women in Indian Country. We did that in 2013.
Extending protections to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, in 2013. ..
The law kept growing stronger. It’s not like we didn’t know in 2005 we should be dealing with the things we dealt with in 2013. It was getting it done.
Each link in the chain that we’re building made a difference — makes a difference.
Yesterday, I signed the Bipartisan Government Funding Bill…And, consequentially, we forged the next link in the chain…
So we established a new civil rights — a new civil rights cause of action for those whose intimate images were shared on the public screen. How many times have you heard — I’ll bet everybody knows somebody somewhere along the line that in an intimate relationship, what happened was the guy takes a revealing picture of his naked friend, or whatever, in a compromising position, and then literally, in a sense, blackmails or mortifies that person — sends it out, put it online.
We’re giving survivors real resources against abuse now. Ex-partners and stalkers who seek to humiliate and hurt them.
We’ve created — you created new programs to help end the backlog of the rape kits. And those rape kits, by the way, I don’t know — you ought to go to your major cities, those of you in the House and Senate — this group probably has — which I have done. And this backlog is so significant. You could solve literally a significant portion of —
Look, the only thing I learned that’s worse than — for a woman — worse than a woman who is abused or raped and says, “It’s Charlie who did it,” and no one believes her — him against her. And when — you can take a look. If you take a look at those rape kits and you went through them all, you could identify and arrest probably 40, 50 percent of the rapists in America. They’re all there. Their DNAs are there. It’s all in line. And run it against the whole panoply. Very few rapists rape only once.
So, look, that — you know, there’s a lot that goes unprocessed. And we have to make sure survivors get compensation, and if there have been delays in their cases — you know, we’ve made improvements in the National Criminal Background Check System to help states investigate and prosecute cases when abuses — when abusers who are barred from purchasing firearms attempt to do so. That, we’ve done federally. Quite frankly, this held — that’s one of the things that held up this bill for much too long. Much too long…
Through the American Rescue Plan, the administration directed $1 billion in supplemental funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services — (applause) — because they’re badly needed.
And we’ve worked with local public housing authorities to make sure that survivors trapped in a bad situation can find safe new housing options in public housing. (Applause.) Because they don’t have (inaudible) to go. You.
And we also made landmark reforms in military justice to help end the epidemic of sexual violence and harassment in our armed forces — (applause) — fundamentally changing how the military investigates, prosecutes sexual assault, domestic violence, and other related crimes…
Earlier this month, I signed a bar- — bipartisan bill that ends what we know as forced arbitration. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? (Applause.) No, no, but I mean the small print to sign a contract, and the small print says you can’t do anything if your boss, male or female — if you end up getting abused and if you end up doing something — you know, you can’t — you have to do it internally. No more. (Applause.) No more. Really.
And 80 percent of the people who sign those don’t even know what’s in the — in the contract.
The mechanism has prevented too many survivors of abuse and harassment in the workplace from having the choice to get their day in court.
Look, these are just a few of the steps you’ve all taken and how much you’ve improved this legislation. But as everyone in this room knows, this work is not going to stop. It never stops.
Today, one year since a gunman killed eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were women of Asian descent, these horrific murders are a reminder that we still have work to do to put an end to misogyny and racism and all forms of hate we have.
We’re never going to get it all done, but we can’t ever stop trying. As long as there are women in this country and around the world who live in fear of violence, there’s more we have to do to fulfill this sacred commitment. No one — no one, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should experience abuse. Period. And if they do, they should have the services and support they need to get through it. And we’re not going to rest.
But in the meantime, all of you should be enormously proud of what you’ve accomplished. This reauthorization is testament to the power of your voices and your tireless dedication to changing things for the better.
Fact Sheet: Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
One of the driving forces of President Biden’s career has been fighting back against abuses of power. That force led him to write and champion the groundbreaking Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as a U.S. Senator, landmark legislation that first passed in 1994. In the nearly three decades since, he has worked with Members of Congress from both parties to pass legislation to renew and strengthen VAWA three times: in 2000, 2005, and 2013. Each time, he worked to expand access to safety and support for all survivors and increase prevention efforts. Preventing and responding to gender-based violence wherever it occurs, and in all of its forms, has remained a cornerstone of the President’s career in public service—from VAWA reauthorization to a national campaign to combat campus sexual assault to reforms to address sexual assault and harassment in the military.
While incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault have declined significantly since VAWA first took effect—and efforts to increase access to services, healing, and justice for survivors have improved with each iteration of VAWA—much work remains.
The 2022 reauthorization of VAWA strengthens this landmark law, including by:
Reauthorizing all current VAWA grant programs until 2027 and, in many cases, increasing authorization levels.
Expanding special criminal jurisdiction of Tribal courts to cover non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault, child abuse, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal law enforcement officers on tribal lands; and supporting the development of a pilot project to enhance access to safety for survivors in Alaska Native villages.
Increasing services and support for survivors from underserved and marginalized communities—including for LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking; funding survivor-centered, community-based restorative practice services; and increasing support for culturally specific services and services in rural communities.
Establishing a federal civil cause of action for individuals whose intimate visual images are disclosed without their consent, allowing a victim to recover damages and legal fees; creating a new National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals; and supporting State, Tribal, and local government efforts to prevent and prosecute cybercrimes, including cyberstalking and the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images.
Improving prevention and response to sexual violence, including through increased support for the Rape Prevention and Education Program and Sexual Assault Services Program; expansion of prevention education for students in institutions of higher education; and enactment of the Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act, which requires state victim compensation programs to allow sexual assault survivors to file for compensation without being unfairly penalized due to rape kit backlogs.
Strengthening the application of evidence-based practices by law enforcement in responding to gender-based violence, including by promoting the use of trauma-informed, victim-centered training and improving homicide reduction initiatives.
Improving the healthcare system’s response to domestic violence and sexual assault, including through enhanced training for sexual assault forensic examiners.
Updating the SMART Prevention Program and the CHOOSE Youth Program to reduce dating violence, help children who have been exposed to domestic violence, and engage men in preventing violence.
Enacting the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Denial Notification Act to help state law enforcement investigate and prosecute cases against individuals legally prohibited from purchasing firearms who try to do so.
Over the past year, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken significant steps to prevent and respond to gender-based violence at home and abroad:
Increased funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services. Directed $1 billion in supplemental funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) in response to the pandemic, including $49.5 million for culturally-specific community-based organizations that help survivors from historically marginalized communities access the services and support they need. The ARP also provided approximately 70,000 housing choice vouchers to local Public Housing Authorities in order to assist individuals and families, including those who are fleeing, or attempting to flee, from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking.
Reformed the military justice system to address sexual assault, harassment, and related crimes. Signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which included sweeping reforms to the military justice system—the most significant since the Uniform Code of Military Justice was established more than seventy years ago—and implemented the President’s campaign promise to address the scourge of sexual assault in our armed forces. In conjunction with the President’s Executive Order on military justice reform, this bipartisan, historic law adopts core recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault, as called for by President Biden, and fundamentally shifts how the military prosecutes and investigates sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other serious crimes, and increases prevention initiatives and support for survivors.
Ended forced arbitration for sexual assault and harassment. Signed into law the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021—bipartisan legislation that empowers survivors of sexual assault and harassment by giving them a choice to go to court instead of being forced into arbitration.
Directed action to protect students from campus sexual assault. Directed the Department of Education to review Title IX regulations and other agency actions to ensure that all students have an educational environment that is free from discrimination on the basis of sex. The Department is developing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking currently under review that will address the need for protection for students who experience campus sexual assault while treating all students fairly.
Increased resources for survivors of crime, including gender-based violence. Signed into law the Amendments to the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which passed Congress with strong bipartisan support and expands the allocation of resources for the Crime Victims Fund. This has already resulted in an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars of non-taxpayer funding for essential and lifesaving services to crime victims around the country, including survivors of gender-based violence.
Led multinational effort to address online harassment and abuse. Launched the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse during the 2022 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, together with the governments of Denmark, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. This multinational initiative will align countries, international organizations, and civil society to better prioritize, understand, and address the growing scourge of technology-facilitated gender-based violence.
Prioritized the crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People, including gender-based violence. Issued an executive order directing the Departments of Justice, Interior, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to create a strategy to improve public safety and justice for Native Americans and to address the epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous peoples, which disproportionately affect Native women, girls, and LGBTQI+ individuals; the Department of the Interior established the Missing and Murdered Unit to pursue justice for missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Strengthened regional leadership on violence against Indigenous women and girls. Re-launched the United States’ leadership and participation in the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls with the Governments of Mexico and Canada. The White House will host the Fourth Convening of the Trilateral Working Group this summer to improve and reaffirm our respective national and regional commitments to prevent and respond to violence against Indigenous women and girls through increased access to justice and prevention services.
On International Women’s Day in 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order creating the White House Gender Policy Council and calling for the development of the first-ever government-wide National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, as well as an update to the 2016 United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. These strategies will provide a roadmap to guide the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government effort to end gender-based violence—and in so doing, create a society where survivors are supported and all people can live free from abuse.
Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden came out forcefully to demand protection of voting rights and election integrity in speeches in Atlanta and called for removing the filibuster, weaponized as an obstacle to Senate action. Republicans in the Senate and House immediately twisted and attacked the Democrats’ desire to assure free and equal access to the ballot and fair counting as an attempt to hijack elections, rather than preserve the foundational element of democracy, dismissing what Republican-dominated legislatures are doing around the country to – by simple majority vote – enact voter suppression, gerrymandered maps and rules that allow them to subvert elections by overturning the will of the majority.
“The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American, in every community, in every political party….The American people have waited long enough. The Senate must act,” Harris declared. “We will fight to secure our most fundamental freedom: the freedom to vote.“Here is a highlighted transcript of Vice President Harris’ remarks:
Last week, one year after a violent mob breached the United States Capitol, 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. (Applause.) 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 — (applause) — on the eve of the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Applause.)
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.
The only normalcy anyone should accept, Dr. King said, is the “normalcy of justice.” And his words resonate today.
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. (Applause.)
There is nothing normal about a law that makes it illegal to pass out water or food to people standing in long voting lines. (Applause.)
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 they don’t.
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 game.
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.
Two landmark bills sit before the United States Senate: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. (Applause.)
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.
We do not know when we will have this opportunity again. Senate Republicans have exploited arcane rules to block these bills.
And let us be clear: The Constitution of the United States gives the Congress the power to pass legislation. And nowhere — nowhere — does the Constitution give a minority the right to unilaterally block legislation. (Applause.)
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. 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.
By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features, news-photos-features.com
Thousands gathered in Foley Square, in front of the federal court house, to hear calls for justice, equal rights and full personhood for women in face of the assault on abortion rights from Texas and dozens of states and the right wing majority Supreme Court’s deference and then marched up to Washington Square Park, bringing their messages of “Save Roe” “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries”, “Hands off Our Privates” “We Won’t Go Back” and “Ruth Sent Us.” (See: NYC Joins Millions Across Country in Rallies, Marches for Women’s Reproductive Freedom)
By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features, news-photos-features.com
Thousands gathered in Foley Square, in front of the federal court house, to protest for justice, equal rights and full personhood for women in face of the assault on abortion rights from Texas and dozens of states and the right wing majority Supreme Court’s deference. The timing was key, just days before the Supreme Court begins its session in which it will hear a Mississippi case banning abortions after 15 weeks. Texas SB8 bans abortions after six-weeks, the theoretical point when a fetus has a heartbeat, and deputizes vigilantes and bounty hunters to enforce it against anyone even suspected of aiding a woman who gets an abortion and collect $10,000.
Rana Abdelhamid: “This is not about religion, not about life. They called us ‘hysterical’ for warning about the effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s time for congress to do what’s right and protect our constitutional right to abortion. End the filibuster. We know what it is to have our bodies policed. Abolition Justice!
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU: We stand with women in Texas, Mississippi and all over the country. Abortion Justice. Reproductive Justice. Make New York a safe haven, close every loophole in state law, so anyone can come for reproductive health. We won’t turn back. We will be at every polling place in every election. Hold elected leaders accountable.
Heidi Sieck, Vote Pro Choice: Reproductive freedom and abortion justice are at stake. Small, massively overfunded group of white supremacist, Christian conservatives have invested in state legislatures, built an anti-choice infrastructure. They stole two Supreme Court seats. That changes now. Over 80 percent support reproductive freedom. Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (that passed the House, but not the senate), end the filibuster, rebalance Supreme Court. In November, 2021, 40,000 seats are up for election. Every ingle elected has a role to protect reproductive rights. Not just congress but state and local. Run for office, donate to VoteProChoice.us.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney: They have been chipping away at abortion rights for years, but now they are bulldozing our rights into the ground.Last week, chaired House Oversight Committee on Texas SB8, when three Congresswomen told their abortion stories. Women are speaking out. In December, Mississippi comes before the Supreme Court. For my entire time in Congress we hadn’t had a pro-choice majority, until this year. We passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, codifying Roe. It has to pass in the Senate. We could pass it except for the filibuster. We have to carve out an exception. There is no democracy if women cannot control their own bodies, make their own reproduction choices. It is so outrageous, I can’t believe we are still fighting for this.
Brita Filter: Abortion rights are LGBTQ rights.
Congressman Jerry Nadler, who, over 50 years ago, lobbied the New York State Assembly to legalize abortion: It’s been 30 days since women were stripped of their constitutional rights, their freedom to make their own decisions of their lives, their bodies. That’s 30 days too many.
Amsi: The battle for reproductive rights is not new. It’s been long, hard, frustrating.
Pascale Bernard, Planned Parenthood of New York City: History is repeating. We have been here before. Enough is enough. Women in Texas are having to drive to Oklahoma, having to choose between paying for an abortion or feeding their children. People are scared. Justice Ginsburg told us to dissent, she left a roadmap to protect reproductive rights. We are lucky in New York, but we nee dto close loopholes, we need an abortion fund so women can come to New York for care, for safety.
Cathy Rojas, a teacher and candidate for NYC mayor running as a Socialist: We need to build a sustainable people-powered movement ion New York City, In Texas, where people were freezing and is one of worst states to live – hunger, poverty of children, maternal mortality – they are leading the attack on abortion rights. So when claim is about protecting life, is really about protecting profit over lives.The right wing don’t give a damn about lives. Instead of dealing with the real crises are attacking abortion rights. Congress is ineffective at passing laws for basic necessities, but quick to bail out banks and the ultra rich. They always find time to attack women, LGBTQ and the vulnerable. This is not just about a bad law, but the whole damn system – the bigots, the politicians for hire, the courts up to the Supreme Court, the corporate control of the media, the police and ICE. I am fed up with capitalism. We need systemic change.
The Band Betty: We are one-fourth through the 21st century. I don’t see flying cars or universal health care. I see women being told to be ashamed. Until women have equal rights in the Constitution, we will continue to see how the state commands our fate.
Rev. Nori Rost, New York Society of Ethical Culture: They are “protecting” a fetus with a heartbeat? How about fighting for people who already have a heart beat. Anti-choice, anti-woman is nothing new – it is about subjugation, oppression. We will not give up, shut up, slow down, sit down until all people have agency over their own body. We are among millions marching as one, we will not be stopped.
Jeannie Park (Warriors in the Garden): Abortion bans have no humanity, no exception for rape, incenst. 3 million have experienced rape, the next 3 million will be forced to carry to term. The penalty to abort is more severe than to rape. Women’s bodies are more regulated than guns. What does it mean to be pro life if you only value certain lives. Encouraging vigilantes, bounty hunters is too lcose to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. I will not go back.
Miriam Elhajli sings a song 100 years old, “Wagoner’s Lad,” and sounding so much like Joan Baez who sang it: “Oh, hard is the fortune of all woman kind/She’s always controlled, she’s always confined/Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife/A slave to her husband the rest of her life”
Carol Jenkins, Co-President and CEO of The ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality: The Equal Rights Amendment has been around for 100 years; it has been 50 years since passed in Congress, now 38 states have ratified it, so could be published in the Constitution. The only hold up is a time limit, put into the introduction, not the amendment. The root of sexism, misogyny, and racism is in the Constitution, written by slaveholding white males. Everything we’ve been doing since has been to repair what was left out of the Constitution. We have to put the ERA on list of things, so we don’t have to keep repairing the Constitution. Congress has removed the timeline twice, it is now in the Senate. We are done having to beg for rights, gather in the streets and ask “please”. Go to ERACoalition.org.
In moving remarks, President Joe Biden, only the first sitting president to acknowledge the Tulsa Race Massacre of 100 years ago, tackled systemic, institutional racism and laid out a plan for economic justice including improving access to homeownership (the most significant factor in family wealth), investments in minority-owned small businesses and disadvantaged communities, and said he would act to preserve voting rights. He pointed to the most significant threat against domestic tranquility – White Supremacy and the rise of domestic terrorists – drawing a line from the Tulsa Race Massacre a century ago and today, and tackled the latest assault by right-wingers to whitewash history, rather than take responsibility.
“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do: They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation. The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild”
“Only with truth can come healing and justice and repair.”
Biden said, “And there’s greater recognition that, for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester — the view that America is a zero-sum game where there is only one winner. “If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine.” And maybe worst of all, “If I hold you down, I lift myself up,” instead of “If you do well, we all do well.” (Applause.) We see that in Greenwood.
“This story isn’t about the loss of life, but a loss of living, of wealth and prosperity and possibilities that still reverberates today.”
He announced significant policies aimed at redressing generational discrimination:
“Today, we’re announcing two expanded efforts targeted toward Black wealth creation that will also help the entire community. The first is: My administration has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimination in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a white family…
“I’m going to increase the share of the dollars the federal government spends to small, disadvantaged businesses, including Black and brown small businesses” from 10 percent to 15 percent.
Biden laid out a plan to use infrastructure investments to specifically improve lives in historically disadvantaged communities.
Then the President turned to voting rights, which Congressman john Lewis called “precious,” “almost sacred”… “The most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society”.
Biden declared, “This sacred right is under assault with an incredible intensity like I’ve never seen.. It’s simply un-American. It is not, however, sadly, unprecedented,” and vowed to ”today, let me be unequivocal: we’re going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again.” He said june would be a month of action, called upon voting rights groups to engage in voter registration campaigns and designated Vice President Kamala Harris as the point-person in his administration to get Congress to pass critical voting rights legislation, including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
But returning to the Tulsa Massacre of 100 years ago, he said that violence resonates again in the rise of White Supremacy, Neo-Nazism, the resurrection of the KKK – the rise of hate crimes and terror against blacks, Asian-Americans, Jews – as was on display in Charlottesville NC that inspired Biden to run for president to “reclaim the soul of the nation.”
“Hate is never defeated; it only hides,” Biden declared. “And given a little bit of oxygen — just a little bit oxygen — by its leaders, it comes out of there from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away. We must not give hate a safe harbor.”
“Terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not ISIS, not al Qaeda — white supremacists” and promised to soon lay out “a broader strategy to counter domestic terrorism and the violence driven by the most heinous hate crimes and other forms of bigotry.”
Here is a highlighted transcript:
I just toured the Hall of Survivors here in Greenwood Cultural Center, and I want to thank the incredible staff for hosting us here. And — (applause) — I mean that sincerely. Thank you.
In the tour, I met Mother Randle, who’s only 56  years old. (Laughter.) God love her. And Mother Fletcher, who’s 67  years old. (Laughter.) And her brother — her brother, Van Ellis, who’s 100 years old. (Laughter.) And he looks like he’s 60. Thank you for spending so much time with me. I really mean it. It was a great honor. A genuine honor.
You are the three known remaining survivors of a story seen in the mirror dimly. But no longer. Now your story will be known in full view.
The events we speak of today took place 100 years ago. And yet, I’m the first President in 100 years ever to come to Tulsa — (applause) — I say that not as a compliment about me, but to think about it — a hundred years, and the first President to be here during that entire time, and in this place, in this ground, to acknowledge the truth of what took place here.
For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing. It erases nothing. Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can’t be buried, no matter how hard people try.
And so it is here. Only — only with truth can come healing and justice and repair. Only with truth, facing it. But that isn’t enough.
First, we have to see, hear, and give respect to Mother Randle, Mother Fletcher, and Mr. Van Ellis. (Applause.) To all those lost so many years ago, to all the descendants of those who suffered, to this community — that’s why we’re here: to shine a light, to make sure America knows the story in full.
May 1921: Formerly enslaved Black people and their descendants are here in Tulsa — a boom town of oil and opportunity in a new frontier.
On the north side, across the rail tracks that divided the city already segregated by law, they built something of their own, worthy — worthy of their talent and their ambition: Greenwood — a community, a way of life. Black doctors and lawyers, pastors, teachers; running hospitals, law practices, libraries, churches, schools.
Black veterans, like a man I had the privilege to giving a Command Coin to, who fought — volunteered and fought, and came home and still faced such prejudice. (Applause.) Veterans had been back a few years helping after winning the first World War, building a new life back home with pride and confidence, who were a mom-and — they were, at the time — mom-and-plack [sic] — mom-and-pop Black diners, grocery stores, barber shops, tailors — the things that make up a community.
At the Dreamland Theatre, a young Black couple, holding hands, falling in love. Friends gathered at music clubs and pool halls; at the Monroe family roller-skating rink. Visitors staying in hotels, like the Stradford.
All around, Black pride shared by the professional class and the working class who lived together, side by side, for blocks on end.
Mother Randle was just six years old — six years old — living with her grandmom. She said she was lucky to have a home and toys, and fortunate to live without fear.
Mother Fletcher was seven years old, the second of seven children. The youngest, being Mr. Van Ellis, was just a few months old. The children of former sharecroppers, when they went to bed at night in Greenwood, Mother Fletcher says they fell asleep rich in terms of the wealth — not real wealth, but a different wealth — a wealth in culture and community and heritage. (Applause.)
But one night — one night changed everything. Everything changed. While Greenwood was a community to itself, it was not separated from the outside.
It wasn’t everyone, but there was enough hate, resentment, and vengeance in the community. Enough people who believed that America does not belong to everyone and not everyone is created equal — Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Black Americans. A belief enforced by law, by badge, by hood and by noose.
And it speaks to that — lit the fuse. It lit it by the spark that it provided — a fuse of fury — was an innocent interaction that turned into a terrible, terrible headline allegation of a Black male teenager attacking a white female teenager.
A white mob of 1,000 gathered around the courthouse where the Black teenager was being held, ready to do what still occurred: lynch that young man that night. But 75 Black men, including Black veterans, arrived to stand guard.
Words were exchanged. Then a scuffle. Then shots fired. Hell was unleashed. Literal hell was unleashed.
Through the night and into the morning, the mob terrorized Greenwood. Torches and guns. Shooting at will. A mob tied a Black man by the waist to the back of their truck with his head banging along the pavement as they drove off. A murdered Black family draped over the fence of their home outside. An elderly couple, knelt by their bed, praying to God with their heart and their soul, when they were shot in the back of their heads.
Private planes — private planes — dropping explosives — the first and only domestic aerial assault of its kind on an American city here in Tulsa.
Eight of Greenwood’s nearly two dozen churches burned, like Mt. Zion — across the street, at Vernon AME.
Mother Randle said it was like war. Mother Fletcher says, all these years later, she still sees Black bodies around.
The Greenwood newspaper publisher A.J. Smitherman penned a poem of what he heard and felt that night. And here’s the poem. He said, “Kill them, burn them, set the pace… teach them how to keep their place. Reign of murder, theft, and plunder was the order of the night.” That’s what he remembered in the poem that he wrote.
One hundred years ago at this hour, on this first day of June, smoke darkened the Tulsa sky, rising from 35 blocks of Greenwood that were left in ash and ember, razed and in rubble.
In less than 24 hours, 1,100 Black homes and businesses were lost. Insurance companies — they had insurance, many of them — rejected claims of damage. Ten thousand people were left destitute and homeless, placed in internment camps.
As I was told today, they were told, “Don’t you mention you were ever in a camp or we’ll come and get you.” That’s what survivors told me.
Yet no one — no arrests of the mob were made. None. No proper accounting of the dead. The death toll records by local officials said there were 36 people. That’s all. Thirty-six people.
But based on studies, records, and accounts, the likelihood — the likely number is much more, in the multiple of hundreds. Untold bodies dumped into mass graves. Families who, at the time, waited for hours and days to know the fate of their loved ones are now descendants who have gone 100 years without closure.
But, you know, as we speak, the process — the process of exhuming the unmarked graves has started. And at this moment, I’d like to pause for a moment of silence for the fathers, the mothers, the sisters, sons, and daughters, friends of God and Greenwood. They deserve dignity, and they deserve our respect. May their souls rest in peace.
[Pause for a moment of silence.]
My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre — (applause) — among the worst in our history, but not the only one. And for too long, forgotten by our history.
As soon as it happened, there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory — our collective memories — from the news and everyday conversations. For a long time, schools in Tulsa didn’t even teach it, let alone schools elsewhere.
And most people didn’t realize that, a century ago, a second Ku Klux Klan had been founded — the second Ku Klux Klan had been founded.
A friend of mine, Jon Meacham — I had written — when I said I was running to restore the soul of America, he wrote a book called “The Soul of America” — not because of what I said. And there’s a picture about page 160 in his book, showing over 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members in full regalia, Reverend — pointed hats, the robes — marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Jesse, you know all about this. Washin- — Washington, D.C.
If my memory is correct, there were 37 members of the House of Representatives who were open members of the Klan. There were five, if I’m not mistaken — it could have been seven; I think it was five — members of the United States Senate — open members of the Klan. Multiple governors who were open members of the Klan.
Most people didn’t realize that, a century ago, the Klan was founded just six years before the horrific destruction here in Tulsa. And one of the reasons why it was founded was because of guys like me, who were Catholic. It wasn’t about African Americans, then; it was about making sure that all those Polish and Irish and Italian and Eastern European Catholics who came to the United States after World War One would not pollute Christianity.
The flames from those burning crosses torched every region — region of the country. Millions of white Americans belonged to the Klan, and they weren’t even embarrassed by it; they were proud of it.
And that hate became embedded systematically and systemically in our laws and our culture. We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened or that it doesn’t impact us today, because it does still impact us today.
We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. (Applause.) We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do: They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation.
The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild. I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence, wounds deepen. (Applause.) And only — as painful as it is, only in remembrance do wounds heal. We just have to choose to remember.
We memorialize what happened here in Tulsa so it can be –so it can’t be erased. We know here, in this hallowed place, we simply can’t bury pain and trauma forever.
And at some point, there will be a reckoning, an inflection point, like we’re facing right now as a nation.
What many people hadn’t seen before or ha- — or simply refused to see cannot be ignored any longer. You see it in so many places.
And there’s greater recognition that, for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester — the view that America is a zero-sum game where there is only one winner. “If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine.” And maybe worst of all, “If I hold you down, I lift myself up,” instead of “If you do well, we all do well.” (Applause.) We see that in Greenwood.
This story isn’t about the loss of life, but a loss of living, of wealth and prosterity [prosperity] and possibilities that still reverberates today.
Mother Fletcher talks about how she was only able to attend school until the fourth grade and eventually found work in the shipyards, as a domestic worker.
Mr. Van Ellis has shared how, even after enlisting and serving in World War Two, he still came home to struggle with a segregated America.
Imagine all those hotels and dinners [diners] and mom-and-pop shops that could been — have been passed down this past hundred years. Imagine what could have been done for Black families in Greenwood: financial security and generational wealth.
If you come from backgrounds like my — my family — a working-class, middle-class family — the only way we were ever able to generate any wealth was in equity in our homes. Imagine what they contributed then and what they could’ve contributed all these years. Imagine a thriving Greenwood in North Tulsa for the last hundred years, what that would’ve meant for all of Tulsa, including the white community.
While the people of Greenwood rebuilt again in the years after the massacre, it didn’t last. Eventually neighborhoods were redlined on maps, locking Black Tulsa out of homeownerships. (Applause.) A highway was built right through the heart of the community. Lisa, I was talking about our west side — what 95 did to it after we were occupied by the military, after Dr. King was murdered. The community — cutting off Black families and businesses from jobs and opportunity. Chronic underinvestment from state and federal governments denied Greenwood even just a chance at rebuilding. (Applause.)
We must find the courage to change the things we know we can change. That’s what Vice President Harris and I are focused on, along with our entire administration, including our Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Marcia Fudge, who is here today. (Applause.)
Because today, we’re announcing two expanded efforts targeted toward Black wealth creation that will also help the entire community. The first is: My administration has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimination in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a white family. (Applause.)
And I might add — and I need help if you have an answer to this; I can’t figure this one out, Congressman Horsford. But if you live in a Black community and there’s another one on the other side of the highway — it’s a white community; it’s the — built by the same builder, and you have a better driving record than they guy with the same car in the white community, you’re — can pay more for your auto insurance.
Shockingly, the percentage of Black American homeownership is lower today in America than when the Fair Housing Act was passed more than 50 years ago. Lower today. That’s wrong. And we’re committing to changing that.
Just imagine if instead of denying millions of Americans the ability to own their own home and build generational wealth, we made it possible for them to buy a home and build equity into that — into that home and provide for their families.
Second, small businesses are the engines of our economy and the glue of our communities. As President, my administration oversees hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts for everything from refurbishing decks of aircraft carriers, to installing railings in federal buildings, to professional services.
We have a thing called — I won’t go into it all because there’s not enough time now. But I’m determined to use every taxpayer’s dollar that is assigned to me to spend, going to American companies and American workers to build American products. And as part of that, I’m going to increase the share of the dollars the federal government spends to small, disadvantaged businesses, including Black and brown small businesses.
Right now, it calls for 10 percent; I’m going to move that to 15 percent of every dollar spent will be spent (inaudible). (Applause.) I have the authority to do that.
Just imagine if, instead of denying millions of entrepreneurs the ability to access capital and contracting, we made it possible to take their dreams to the marketplace to create jobs and invest in our communities.
That — the data shows young Black entrepreneurs are just as capable of succeeding, given the chance, as white entrepreneurs are. But they don’t have lawyers. They don’t have — they — they don’t have accountants, but they have great ideas.
Does anyone doubt this whole nation would be better off from the investments those people make? And I promise you, that’s why I set up the — a national Small Business Administration that’s much broader. Because they’re going to get those loans.
Instead of consigning millions of American children to under-resourced schools, let’s give each and every child, three and four years old, access to school — not daycare, school. (Applause.)
In the last 10 years, studies have been done by all the great universities. It shows that, if increased by 56 percent, the possibility of a child — no matter what background they come from; no matter what — if they start school at three years old, they have a 56 percent chance of going all through all 12 years without any trouble and being able to do well, and a chance to learn and grow and thrive in a school and throughout their lives.
And let’s unlock more than — an incredible creativity and innovation that will come from the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. (Applause.) I have a $5 billion program giving them the resources to invest in research centers and laboratories and high-demand fields to compete for the good-paying jobs in industries like — of the future, like cybersecurity.
The reason why they don’t — their — their students are equally able to learn as well, and get the good-paying job that start at 90- and 100,000 bucks. But they don’t have — they don’t have the back — they don’t have the money to provide and build those laboratories. So, guess what? They’re going to get the money to build those laboratories. (Applause.)
So, instead of just talking about infrastructure, let’s get about the business of actually rebuilding roads and highways, filling the sidewalks and cracks, installing streetlights and high-speed Internet, creating space — space to live and work and play safely.
Let’s ensure access to healthcare, clean water, clean air, nearby grocery stores — stock the fresh vegetables and food that — (applause) — in fact, deal with — I mean, these are all things we can do.
Does anyone doubt this whole nation would be better off with these investments? The rich will be just as well off. The middle class will do better, and everybody will do better. It’s about good-paying jobs, financial stability, and being able to build some generational wealth. It’s about economic growth for our country and outcompeting the rest of the world, which is now outcompeting us.
But just as fundamental as any of these investments I’ve discussed — this may be the most fundamental: the right to vote. (Applause.) The right to vote. (Applause.)
A lot of the members of the Black Caucus knew John Lewis better than I did, but I knew him. On his deathbed, like many, I called John, to speak to him. But all John wanted to do was talk about how I was doing. He died, I think, about 25 hours later.
But you know what John said? He called the right to vote “precious,” “almost sacred.” He said, “The most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society”.
This sacred right is under assault with an incredible intensity like I’ve never seen — even though I got started as a public defender and a civil rights lawyer — with an intensity and an aggressiveness that we have not seen in a long, long time.
It’s simply un-American. It is not, however, sadly, unprecedented. The creed “We Shall Overcome” is a longtime mainstay of the Civil Rights Movement, as Jesse Jackson can tell you better than anybody.
The obstacle to progress that have to be overcome are a constant challenge. We saw it in the ‘60s, but with the current assault, it’s not just an echo of a distant history.
In 2020, we faced a tireless assault on the right to vote: restrictive laws, lawsuits, threats of intimidation, voter purges, and more. We resolved to overcome it all, and we did. More Americans voted in the last election than any — in the midst of a pandemic — than any election in American history. (Applause.)
You got voters registered. You got voters to the polls. The rule of law held. Democracy prevailed. We overcame.
But today, let me be unequivocal: I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we’re going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again.
I will have more to say about this at a later date — the truly unprecedented assault on our democracy, an effort to replace nonpartisan election administrators and to intimidate those charged with tallying and reporting the election results.
But today, as for the act of voting itself, I urge voting rights groups in this country to begin to redouble their efforts now to register and educate voters. (Applause.)
June should be a month of action on Capitol Hill. I hear all the folks on TV saying, “Why doesn’t Biden get this done?” Well, because Biden only has a majority of, effectively, four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.
But we’re not giving up. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed For the People Act to protect our democracy. The Senate will take it up later this month, and I’m going to fight like heck with every tool at my disposal for its passage.
The House is also working on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is — which is critical — (applause) — to providing new legal tools to combat the new assault on the right to vote.
To signify the importance of our efforts, today I’masking Vice President Harris to help these efforts and lead them, among her many other responsibilities.
With her leadership and your support, we’re going to overcome again, I promise you. But it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work. (Applause.)
And finally, we have to — and finally, we must address what remains the stain on the soul of America. What happened in Greenwood was an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through line that exists today still.
Just close your eyes and remember what you saw in Charlottesville four years ago on television. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK coming out of those fields at night in Virginia with lighted torches — the veins bulging on their — as they were screaming. Remember? Just close your eyes and picture what it was.
Well, Mother Fletcher said when she saw the insurrection at the Capitol on January the 9th [6th], it broke her heart — a mob of violent white extremists — thugs. Said it reminded her what happened here in Greenwood 100 years ago.
Look around at the various hate crimes against Asian Americans and Jewish Americans. Hate that never goes away. Hate only hides.
Jesse, I think I mentioned this to you. I thought, after you guys pushed through, with Dr. King, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act — I thought we moved. But what I didn’t realize — I thought we had made enormous progress, and I was so proud to be a little part of it.
But you know what, Rev? I didn’t realize hate is never defeated; it only hides. It hides. And given a little bit of oxygen — just a little bit oxygen — by its leaders, it comes out of there from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away.
And so, folks, we can’t — we must not give hate a safe harbor.
As I said in my address to the joint session of Congress: According to the intelligence community, terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not ISIS, not al Qaeda — white supremacists. (Applause.) That’s not me; that’s the intelligence community under both Trump and under my administration.
Two weeks ago, I signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which the House had passed and the Senate. My administration will soon lay out our broader strategy to counter domestic terrorism and the violence driven by the most heinous hate crimes and other forms of bigotry.
But I’m going to close where I started. To Mother Randle, Mother Fletcher, Mr. Van Ellis, to the descendants, and to all survivors: Thank you. Thank you for giving me the honor of being able to spend some time with you earlier today. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your commitment. And thank your children, and your grandchildren, and your unc- — and your nieces and your nephews.
To see and learn from you is a gift — a genuine gift. Dr. John Hope Franklin, one of America’s greatest historians — Tulsa’s proud son, whose father was a Greenwood survivor — said, and I quote, “Whatever you do, it must be done in the spirit of goodwill and mutual respect and even love. How else can we overcome the past and be worthy of our forebearers and face the future with confidence and with hope?”
On this sacred and solemn day, may we find that distinctly Greenwood spirit that defines the American spirit — the spirit that gives me so much confidence and hope for the future; that helps us see, face to face; a spirit that helps us know fully who we are and who we can be as a people and as a nation.
I’ve never been more optimistic about the future than I am today. I mean that. And the reason is because of this new generation of young people. They’re the best educated, they’re the least prejudiced, the most open generation in American history.
And although I have no scientific basis of what I’m about to say, but those of you who are over 50 — how often did you ever see — how often did you ever see advertisements on television with Black and white couples? Not a joke.
I challenge you — find today, when you turn on the stations — sit on one station for two hours. And I don’t know how many commercials you’ll see — eight to five — two to three out of five have mixed-race couples in them. That’s not by accident. They’re selling soap, man. (Laughter.) Not a joke.
Remember ol’ Pat Caddell? He used to say, “You want to know what’s happening in American culture? Watch advertising, because they want to sell what they have.”
We have hope in folks like you, honey. I really mean it. We have hope. But we’ve got to give them support. We have got to give them the backbone to do what we know has to be done. Because I doubt whether any of you would be here if you didn’t care deeply about this. You sure in the devil didn’t come to hear me speak. (Laughter.)
But I really mean it. I really mean it. Let’s not give up, man. Let’s not give up.
As the old saying goes, “Hope springs eternal.” I know we’ve talked a lot about famous people, but I’m — my colleagues in the Senate used to kid me because I was always quoting Irish poets. They think I did it because I’m Irish. They think I did it because we Irish — we have a little chip on our shoulder. A little bit, sometimes.
That’s not why I did it; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. (Laughter.) You can smile, it’s okay. It’s true.
There was a famous poet who wrote a poem called “The Cure at Troy” — Seamus Heaney. And there is a stanza in it that I think is the definition of what I think should be our call today for young people.
It said, “History teaches us not to hope on this side of the grave, but then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”
President Joe Biden gave remarks immediately following the jury verdict that found Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty for the death of George Floyd, saying “We must not turn away. We can’t turn away. We have a chance to begin to change the trajectory in this country. It’s my hope and prayer that we live up to the legacy.” Here is a highlighted transcript:
Today, a jury in Minnesota found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd last May.
It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism the Vice President just referred to — the systemic racism that is a stain our nation’s soul; the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans; the profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every single day.
The murder of George Floyd launched a summer of protest we hadn’t seen since the Civil Rights era in the ‘60s — protests that unified people of every race and generation in peace and with purpose to say, “Enough. Enough. Enough of the senseless killings.”
Today — today’s verdict is a step forward. I just spoke with the Governor of Minnesota, who thanked me for the close work with his team.
And I also just spoke with George Floyd’s family again — a remarkable family of extraordinary courage. Nothing can ever bring their brother, their father back. But this can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.
Let’s also be clear that such a verdict is also much too rare. For so many people, it seems like it took a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors: a brave young woman with a smartphone camera; a crowd that was traumatized — traumatized witnesses; a murder that lasts almost 10 minutes in broad daylight for, ultimately, the whole world to see; officers standing up and testifying against a fellow officer instead of just closing ranks, which should be commended; a jury who heard the evidence, carried out their civic duty in the midst of an extraordinary moment, under extraordinary pressure.
For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver a just — just basic accountability.
We saw how traumatic and exhausting just watching the trial was for so many people. Think about it, those of you who are listening — think about how traumatic it was for you. You weren’t there. You didn’t know any of the people.
But it was difficult, especially for the witnesses who had to relive that day.
It’s a trauma on top of the fear so many people of color live with every day when they go to sleep at night and pray for the safety of themselves and their loved ones.
Again — as we saw in this trial, from the fellow police officers who testified — most men and women who wear the badge serve their communities honorably.
But those few who fail to meet that standard must be held accountable. And they were today; one was. No one should be above the law. And today’s verdict sends that message.
But it is not enough. We can’t stop here.
In order to deliver real change and reform, we can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen and occur again; to ensure that Black and brown people or anyone — so they don’t fear the interactions with law enforcement, that they don’t have to wake up knowing that they can lose their very life in the course of just living their life. They don’t have to worry about whether their sons or daughters will come home after a grocery store run or just walking down the street or driving their car or playing in the park or just sleeping at home.
And this takes acknowledging and confronting, head on, systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing and in our criminal justice system more broadly.
You know, state and local government and law enforcement needs to step up, but so does the federal government. That’s why I have appointed the leadership at the Justice Department that I have, that is fully committed to restoring trust between law enforcement and the community they are sworn to serve and protect. I have complete confidence in the Attorney General — General Garland’s leadership and commitment.
I have also nominated two key Justice Department nominees — Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke — who are eminently qualified, highly respected lawyers who have spent their entire careers fighting to advance racial equity and justice.
Vanita and Kristen have the experience and the skill necessary to advance our administration’s priorities to root out unconstitutional policing and reform our criminal justice system, and they deserve to be confirmed.
We also need Congress to act. George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago. There’s meaningful police reform legislation in his name. You just heard the Vice President speak of it. She helped write it. Legislation to tackle systemic misconduct in police departments, to restore trust between law enforcement and the people that are entrusted to serve and protect. But it shouldn’t take a whole year to get this done.
In my conversations with the Floyd family — and I spoke with them again today — I assured them that we’re going to continue to fight for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so we can — I can sign it into law as quickly as possible. And there’s more to do.
Finally, it’s the work we do every day to change hearts and minds as well as laws and policies — that’s the work we have to do. Only then will full justice and full equality be delivered to all Americans. And that’s what I just discussed with the Floyd family.
The guilty verdict does not bring back George. But through the family’s pain, they are finding purpose so George’s legacy will not be just about his death, but about what we must do in his memory.
I also spoke to Gianna — George’s (inaudible) — George’s young daughter, again. When I met her last year — I’ve said this before — at George’s funeral, I told her how brave I thought she was. And I, sort of, knelt down to hold her hand. I said, “Daddy’s looking down on you. He’s so proud.” She said to me then — I’ll never forget it — “Daddy changed the world.”
Well, I told her this afternoon, “Daddy did change the world.” Let that be his legacy: a legacy of peace, not violence — of justice.
Peaceful expression of that legacy are inevitable and appropriate, but violent protest is not. And there are those who will seek to exploit the raw emotions of the moment — agitators and extremists who have no interest in social justice; who seek to carry out violence, destroy property, to fan the flames of hate and division; who will do everything in their power to stop this country’s march toward racial justice. We can’t let them succeed.
This is the time for this country to come together, to unite as Americans. There can never be any safe harbor for hate in America.
I’ve said it many times: The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push and pull for more than 240 years — a tug of war between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart.
At our best, the American ideal wins out. So we can’t leave this moment or look away, thinking our work is done. We have to look at it as we did for those 9 minutes and 29 seconds. We have to listen. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Those were George Floyd’s last words. We can’t let those words die with him. We have to keep hearing those words.
We must not turn away. We can’t turn away. We have a chance to begin to change the trajectory in this country. It’s my hope and prayer that we live up to the legacy.
May God bless you. And may God bless the — George Floyd and his family.
Thank you for taking the time to be here. This can be a moment of significant change.
On a day marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, an event that so outraged Americans it led ultimately to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, President Joe Biden addressed the unity breakfast named after Dr. and Mrs. King and announced that he had signed an Executive Order “to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting.”
President Biden declared, “Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.” Here is the text of his remarks and the details of his Executive Order:
I know this is the first commemoration of Bloody Sunday without Reverend C.T. Vivian, Reverend Joseph Lowery, and Congressman John Lewis. Preachers of the social gospel. Architects of the ‘Beloved Community,’ they built not only with words but with action. And reminders that in our lifetime, for Black Americans, the fundamental right to vote has been denied by white supremacy hiding both behind white hoods and in plain sight in state houses and courtrooms.
Yet those torches and burning crosses, the batons, tear gas, fire hoses, attack dogs, and unfair laws and trials could not stop progress. The blood of John Lewis and hundreds of other brave and righteous souls that was spilled in Selma, on this Sunday in 1965 sanctified a noble struggle.
And when the country saw those images that night, America was forced to confront the denial of democracy — the fierce urgency of justice.
Congress passed the Voting Rights Act a few months later, and President Johnson signed it into law.
The legacy of the march in Selma is that while nothing can stop a free people from exercising their most sacred power as a citizen, there are those who will do everything they can to take that power away.
The Voting Rights Act began to dismantle barriers to voting and to make our elections more fair, free, and representative.
I was always proud to lead the efforts to reauthorize it over the years as a U.S. Senator in the Judiciary Committee. But at the same time, Republicans at every level have chipped away at it.
Then in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, holding that times have changed and blatant voter discrimination was rare, contrary to the assault that was taking place on the ground. The late Justice Ginsburg wrote that the decision was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm.” Today, we have a hail storm, not a rain storm.
And in 2020, our very democracy on the line, even in the midst of a pandemic, more Americans voted than ever before. Multiple recounts in states and decisions in more than 60 courts – from judges appointed by my predecessor, including at the Supreme Court – upheld the integrity of this historic election.
Yet instead of celebrating this powerful demonstration of voting – we have seen an unprecedented insurrection in our Capitol and a brutal attack on our democracy on January 6th. A never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people.
And to think that it’s been followed by an all-out assault on the right to vote in state legislatures all across the country happening right now. During the current legislative session, elected officials in 43 states have already introduced more than 250 bills to make it harder for Americans to vote. We cannot let them succeed.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021. This is a landmark piece of legislation that is urgently needed to protect the right to vote, the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy. I hope the Senate does its work so that I can sign it into law.
I also urge Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act, named in John Lewis’ honor.
Today, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I am signing an executive order to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting. Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.
I’ll close with this – a few days before he passed, Jill and I spoke with John, Congressman Lewis.
But instead of answering our concerns about him, “how are you doing, John,” he asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal and to unite this nation around what it means to be an American.
That’s the God’s truth. John wouldn’t talk about his pending death or his concerns. He said we just got to get this done.
That we are all created equal. That we all deserve to be treated equally.
On this day of reflection, please, let’s stay focused on the work ahead.
Let’s remember all those who came before us as a bridge to our history so we do not forget its pain, and as a bridge to our future so we never lose our hope.
May God bless their memory. May God bless you all.
FACT SHEET: President Biden to Sign Executive Order to Promote Voting Access
On this day in 1965, state troopers beat and tear-gassed hundreds of peaceful protestors crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The protestors were seeking justice and to ensure their right to vote would not be denied. At the head of the march were former Congressman John Lewis and Rev. Hosea Williams. As the troopers advanced with clubs raised, the group knelt in prayer. The images of protestors, bloody and bruised, flashing on television screens across the nation spurred Congress to pass, and President Johnson to sign into law, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Congressman Lewis’ fight to protect and expand the vote did not end that day in Selma. He carried the mission to our nation’s Capital and remained a vigilant protector of our right to vote, knowing all too well the burdens borne to guarantee it.
Today, to mark the 56th anniversary of Selma with actions and not just words, President Biden will sign an Executive Order to promote voting access and allow all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy. This Executive Order will leverage the resources of the federal government to increase access to voter registration services and information about voting.
As the President has said, democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend, strengthen, and renew it. Free and fair elections that reflect the will of the American people must be protected and defended. Too many Americans face significant obstacles to exercising their fundamental right to vote. For generations, Black voters and other voters of color have faced discriminatory policies that suppress their vote. Voters of color are more likely to face long lines at the polls and are disproportionately burdened by voter identification laws and limited opportunities to vote by mail. Native Americans likewise face limited opportunities to vote by mail and frequently lack sufficient polling places and voter registration opportunities near their homes. Limited access to language assistance is an obstacle for many voters. People with disabilities face longstanding barriers in exercising their right to vote, especially when it comes to legally required accommodations to vote privately and independently. Members of our military serving overseas, as well as other American citizens living abroad, also face unnecessary challenges to exercising their right to vote.
Today’s Executive Order is an initial step in this Administration’s efforts to protect the right to vote and ensure all eligible citizens can freely participate in the electoral process. The President is committed to working with Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which includes bold reforms to make it more equitable and accessible for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
Today’s Executive Order will:
Direct federal agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information. The executive order will direct the head of each federal agency to submit to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy a strategic plan outlining ways their agency can promote voter registration and participation within 200 days. These strategic plans could include actions such as:
Leveraging agencies’ existing websites and social media to provide information about how to register to vote
Distributing voter registration and vote-by-mail ballot applications in the course of regular services
Considering whether any identity documents issued by the agency can be issued in a form that satisfies state voter identification laws
And, the Federal Chief Information Officer of the United States will coordinate across federal agencies to improve or modernize federal websites and digital services that provide election and voting information to the American people, including ensuring that federal websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities and people with limited English proficiency.
Direct federal agencies to assist states under the National Voter Registration Act. Today’s Executive Order reaffirms the intent of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 to have federal agencies assist with voter registration efforts. Since the NVRA was enacted, state government agencies, like a department of motor vehicles, have helped register hundreds of millions of voters. Unlike state agencies, however, federal agencies can only become voter registration agencies under the NVRA at a state’s request. Federal agencies providing direct services to underserved communities represent a unique opportunity to provide access to voter registration services. Under today’s action, the head of each federal agency will evaluate where and how the federal agency provides services that directly engage with the public, and to the greatest extent possible, formally notify states in which it provides services that it would agree to designation as a voter registration agency. If requested by a state to be designated as a voter registration agency, the federal agency shall to the greatest extent possible agree to such designation.
Improve and modernize Vote.gov. The Executive Order will direct the General Services Administration (GSA) to submit to the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy a strategic plan outlining steps to modernize and improve the user experience of the federal government’s premier source of voting-related information, Vote.gov, including the accessibility of the website within 200 days. The order requires GSA to seek the input of affected stakeholders, including election administrators, civil rights and disability rights activists, Tribal Nations, and nonprofit groups that study best practices for using technology to promote civic engagement.
Increase federal employees’ access to voting. The Executive Order will direct the Director of the Office of Personnel Management to work with the head of federal agencies to provide recommendations to the President regarding leave for federal employees to vote or to volunteer as nonpartisan poll workers, ensuring that the federal government serves as a model to other employers.
Analyze barriers to voting for people with disabilities. The Executive Order will direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce to evaluate and publish recommendations on the steps needed to ensure that the online Federal Voter Registration Form is accessible to people with disabilities within 200 days. The order directs NIST—in consultation with the Department of Justice, the Election Assistance Commission, and other agencies—to analyze barriers to private and independent voting for people with disabilities, including access to voter registration, voting technology, voting by mail, polling locations, and poll worker training.
Increase voting access for active duty military and other overseas voters. The executive order will direct the Secretary of Defense within 200 days to establish procedures to annually offer each member of the Armed Forces on active duty the opportunity to register to vote in federal elections, update voter registration, or request an absentee ballot. Additionally, the Secretary of Defense—in coordination with the Department of State, the Military Postal Service Agency and United States Postal Service—is required to submit a strategic plan for an end-to-end ballot tracking system for overseas ballots. And, the head of each federal agency with overseas employees is directed to designate a point of contact to coordinate with the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) and promote voter registration and voting services available to these employees.
Provide voting access and education to citizens in federal custody. The order will direct the Attorney General to establish procedures to provide educational materials related to voter registration and voting, and to the extent practicable, to facilitate voter registration, for all eligible individuals in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It also directs the Attorney General to coordinate with the Probation and Pretrial Services Office to develop similar procedures for eligible individuals under its supervision. The Executive Order also directs the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure the U.S. Marshals Service includes language in jail contracts to provide eligible individuals educational materials related to voter registration and voting, and to facilitate voting by mail, to the extent practicable and appropriate. And, it directs the Attorney General to take steps to support formerly incarcerated individuals in obtaining a means of identification that satisfies state voter identification laws.
Establish a Native American voting rights steering group. The order will establish an interagency steering group on Native American voting rights to be coordinated by the Domestic Policy Council. The steering group will include, at a minimum, the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or their designees. The steering group will study best practices, in consultation with Tribal Nations, for protecting voting rights of Native Americans and will produce a report within one year of the date of the order outlining recommendations for increasing voter outreach, education, registration, and turnout in Native American communities.
Vice President Joe Biden took to the sacred ground of the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg to lay out his vision for the soul of America, why Charlottesville was the impetus for his run for the presidency, and set the stage for the final four weeks of the 2020 election campaign.
In stark contrast to the scowling Mussolini-esque “Covita” video stunt Trump pulled on arriving back at the White House from Walter Reed Hospital, when he immediately pulled off his face mask and summoned a photographer to come behind him for a better shot, Biden spoke to the concerns of Americans, in high anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic, economic hardship, civil unrest and climate crisis. Evoking Lincoln’s famous speech, he called for unity around the shared values of America, saying he was a proud Democrat but if elected President, he would be a President for all Americans, calling it, “Battle for the Soul of the Nation.”
Biden outlined the ways in which the nation, riven by partisan and tribal conflict, can heal, come together as Americans – indeed, after 244 years of upholding the revolutionary idea of government of, by, for the people, he declared, we must.
“It cannot be that after all this country has been through. After all that America has accomplished, after all the years we have stood as a beacon of light to the world, it cannot be that here and now, in 2020, we will allow government of the people, by the people, and for the people to perish from this earth,” Biden declared.
“No. It cannot. It must not.
“We have in our hands the ultimate power: the power of the vote. It is the noblest instrument ever devised to register our will in a peaceable and productive fashion.
“And so we must.
“We must vote.
“And we will vote no matter how many obstacles are thrown in our way. Because once America votes, America will be heard.”
Biden declared, “Together, as one nation, under God, indivisible, let us join forces to fight the common foes of injustice and inequality, of hate and fear…
“You and I are part of a great covenant, a common story of divisions overcome and of hope renewed.
“If we do our part. If we stand together. If we keep faith with the past and with each other, then the divisions of our time can give way to the dreams of a brighter, better, future.”
And Biden, acting and sounding like the president this country needs and deserves, pledged, “As president, I will embrace hope, not fear. Peace, not violence. Generosity, not greed. Light, not darkness.
“I will be a president who appeals to the best in us. Not the worst.
“I will be a president who pushes towards the future. Not one who clings to the past.
“I am ready to fight for you and for our nation. Every day. Without exception, without reservation. And with a full and devoted heart….
“Now we have our work to reunite America, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to move past shadow and suspicion.”
Here are Vice President Biden’s highlighted remarks, as prepared for delivery — Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
On July 4, 1863, America woke to the remains of perhaps the most consequential battle ever fought on American soil. It took place here on this ground in Gettysburg.
Three days of violence, three days of carnage. 50,000 casualties wounded, captured, missing or dead. Over three days of fighting.
When the sun rose on that Independence Day, Lee would retreat.
The war would go on for nearly two more years, but the back of the Confederacy had been broken.
The Union would be saved, slavery would be abolished. Government of, by, and for the people would not perish from the earth, and freedom would be born anew in our land.
There is no more fitting place than here today in Gettysburg to talk about the cost of division — about how much it has cost America in the past, about how much it is costing us now, and about why I believe in this moment we must come together as a nation.
For President Lincoln, the Civil War was about the greatest of causes: the end of slavery, the widening of equality, the pursuit of justice, the creation of opportunity, and the sanctity of freedom.
His words here would live ever after.
We hear them in our heads, we know them in our hearts, we draw on them when we seek hope in the hours of darkness.
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Here, on this sacred ground Abraham Lincoln reimagined America itself. Here, a president of the United States spoke of the price of division and the meaning of sacrifice. He believed in the rescue, the redemption, and the rededication of the Union, all this in a time not just of ferocious division, but also widespread death, structural inequality, and fear of the future.
And he taught us this: A house divided could not stand. That is a great and timeless truth.
Today, once again, we are a house divided. But that, my friends, can no longer be.
We are facing too many crises. We have too much work to do. We have too bright a future to leave it shipwrecked on the shoals of anger and hate and division.
As we stand here today, a century and a half after Gettysburg, we should consider again what can happen when equal justice is denied and when anger and violence and division are left unchecked.
As I look across America today, I’m concerned. The country is in a dangerous place. Our trust in each other is ebbing. Hope is elusive.
Too many Americans see our public life not as an arena for the mediation of our differences. Rather, they see it as an occasion for total, unrelenting partisan warfare.
Instead of treating the other party as the opposition, we treat them as the enemy.
This must end.
We need to revive a spirit of bipartisanship in this country, a spirit of being able to work with one another.
When I say that, I’m accused of being naïve.
I’m told maybe that’s the way things used to work, but they can’t any more.
Well, I’m here to say they can. And they must if we’re going to get anything done.
I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president.
I will work with Democrats and Republicans and I will work as hard for those who don’t support me as for those who do.
That’s the job of a president.
It’s a duty of care for everyone.
The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a decision. A choice we make.
And if we can decide not to cooperate, we can decide to cooperate as well.
That’s the choice I’ll make as president.
But there is something bigger going on in the nation than just our broken politics, something darker, something more dangerous.
I’m not talking about ordinary differences of opinion. Competing viewpoints give life and vibrancy to our democracy.
No, I’m talking about something different, something deeper.
Too many Americans seek not to overcome our divisions, but to deepen them.
We must seek not to build walls, but bridges. We must seek not to clench our fists, but to open our arms. We must seek not to tear each other apart, but to come together.
You don’t have to agree with me on everything — or even on most things — to see that what we’re experiencing today is neither good nor normal.
I made the decision to run for president after Charlottesville.
Close your eyes. Remember what you saw.
Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK coming out of the fields with torches lit. Veins bulging. Chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the 1930s.
It was hate on the march, in the open. In America.
Hate never goes away. It only hides.
And when it is given oxygen, when it is given the opportunity to spread, when it is treated as normal and acceptable behavior we have opened a door in this country we must move quickly to close.
As President, I will do that.
I will send a clear, unequivocal message to the nation. There is no place for hate in America.
It will be given no license. It will be given no oxygen. It will be given no safe harbor.
In recent weeks and months, the country has been roiled by instances of excessive police force, by heart wrenching cases of racial injustice and lives needlessly and senselessly lost, by peaceful protests giving voice to the calls for justice, and by examples of violence and looting and burning that cannot be tolerated.
I believe in law and order. I have never supported defunding the police.
But I also believe injustice is real.
It’s the product of a history that goes back 400 years, to the moment when black men, women, and children were first brought here in chains.
I do not believe we have to choose between law and order and racial justice in America.
We can have both.
This nation is strong enough to both honestly face systemic racism, and strong enough to provide safe streets for our families and small businesses that too often bear the brunt of this looting and burning.
We have no need for armed militias roaming America’s streets, and we should have no tolerance for extremist white supremacist groups menacing our communities.
If you say we should trust America’s law enforcement authorities to do their jobs as I do, then let them do their job without extremist groups acting as vigilantes.
And if you say we have no need to face racial injustice in this country, you haven’t opened your eyes to the truth in America.
There have been powerful voices for justice in recent weeks and months.
George Floyd’s 6-year old daughter Gianna, who I met with, was one such voice when she said, “Daddy changed the world.”
Also, Jacob Blake’s mother was another when she said violence didn’t reflect her son and that this nation needed healing.
And Doc Rivers, the basketball coach choking back tears when he said, “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot … We’ve been hung. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”
Think about that. Think about what it takes for a Black person to love America. That is a deep love for this country that for far too long we have never fully recognized.
What we need in America is leadership that seeks to deescalate tensions, to open lines of communication, and to bring us together.
To heal. And to hope.
As President, that is precisely what I will do.
We have paid a high price for allowing the deep divisions in this country to impact how we have dealt with the coronavirus. 210,000 Americans dead and the numbers climbing. It’s estimated that nearly another 210,000 Americans could lose their lives by the end of the year.
Enough. No more.
Let’s set the partisanship aside. Let’s end the politics. Let’s follow the science.
Wearing a mask isn’t a political statement. It’s a scientific recommendation.
Social distancing isn’t a political statement. It’s a scientific recommendation.
Testing. Tracing. The development, ultimately approval and distribution of a vaccine isn’t a political statement. These are scientific-based decisions.
We can’t undo what has been done. We can’t go back. But we can do better. We can do better starting today.
We can have a national strategy that puts the politics aside and saves lives.
We can have a national strategy that will make it possible for our schools and businesses to open safely.
We can have a national strategy that reflects the true values of this nation.
The pandemic is not a red state versus blue state issue. The virus doesn’t care where you live or what political party you belong to.
It infects us all. It will take anyone’s life. It is a virus — not a political weapon.
There’s another enduring division in America that we must end: The divisions in our economic life that give opportunity only to the privileged few.
America has to be about mobility. It has to be the kind of country where an Abraham Lincoln – a child of the distant frontier, can rise to our highest office.
America has to be about the possibilities. The possibilities of prosperity.
Not just for the privileged few. But for the many — for all of us.
Working people and their kids deserve an opportunity.
Lincoln knew this. He said that the country had to give people “an open field and a fair chance.”
And that’s what we’re going to do in the America we’re going to build — together.
We fought a Civil War that would secure a Union that would seek to fulfill the promise of equality for all.
And by fits and starts — our better angels have prevailed just enough against our worst impulses to make a new and better nation.
And those better angels can prevail again — now. They must prevail again — now. A hundred years after Lincoln spoke here at Gettysburg then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson also came here and said: “Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg … We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate.”
Today we are engaged once again in a battle for the soul of the nation.
The forces of darkness, the forces of division, the forces of yesterday are pulling us apart, holding us down, and holding us back.
We must free ourselves of all of them.
As president, I will embrace hope, not fear. Peace, not violence. Generosity, not greed. Light, not darkness.
I will be a president who appeals to the best in us. Not the worst.
I will be a president who pushes towards the future. Not one who clings to the past.
I am ready to fight for you and for our nation. Every day. Without exception, without reservation. And with a full and devoted heart.
We cannot — and will not — allow extremists and white supremacists to overturn the America of Lincoln and Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
To overturn the America that has welcomed immigrants from distant shores.
To overturn the America that’s been a haven and a home for everyone no matter their background.
From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, we’re at our best when the promise of America is available to all.
We cannot and will not allow violence in the streets to threaten the people of this nation.
We cannot and will not walk away from our obligation to, at long last, face the reckoning on race and racial justice in the country.
We cannot and will not continue to be stuck in a partisan politics that lets this virus thrive while the public health of this nation suffers.
We cannot and will not accept an economic equation that only favors those who’ve already got it made.
Everybody deserves a shot at prosperity.
Duty and history call presidents to provide for the common good. And I will.
It won’t be easy. Our divisions today are of long standing. Economic and racial inequities have shaped us for generations.
But I give you my word: If I am elected President, I will marshal the ingenuity and good will of this nation to turn division into unity and bring us together.
We can disagree about how to move forward, but we must take the first step.
And it starts with how we treat one another, how we talk to one another, how we respect one another.
In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Now we have our work to reunite America, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to move past shadow and suspicion.
And so we — you and I, together — press on, even now.
After hearing the Second Inaugural Address, Frederick Douglass told the president:
“Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”
We must be dedicated now to our own sacred effort.
The promise of Gettysburg, that a new birth of freedom was at hand, is at risk.
Every generation that has followed Gettysburg has been faced with a moment — when it must answer this question — whether it will allow the sacrifices made here to be in vain.
This is our moment to answer this essential American question for ourselves and for our time.
And my answer is this:
It cannot be that after all this country has been through. After all that America has accomplished, after all the years we have stood as a beacon of light to the world, it cannot be that here and now, in 2020, we will allow government of the people, by the people, and for the people to perish from this earth.
No. It cannot. It must not.
We have in our hands the ultimate power: the power of the vote. It is the noblest instrument ever devised to register our will in a peaceable and productive fashion.
And so we must.
We must vote.
And we will vote no matter how many obstacles are thrown in our way. Because once America votes, America will be heard.
Lincoln said: “The nation is worth fighting for.”
So it was. So it is.
Together, as one nation, under God, indivisible, let us join forces to fight the common foes of injustice and inequality, of hate and fear.
Let us conduct ourselves as Americans who love each other — who love our country and who will not destroy, but will build.
We owe that to the dead who are buried here at Gettysburg.
And we owe that to the living and to future generations yet to be born.
You and I are part of a great covenant, a common story of divisions overcome and of hope renewed.
If we do our part. If we stand together. If we keep faith with the past and with each other, then the divisions of our time can give way to the dreams of a brighter, better, future.
This is our work. This is our pledge. This is our mission.
The hypocrisy and shamelessness of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans to now move forward to fill the seat vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with someone who would completely undo all the progress she made toward equality and social justice in the midst of actual voting to replace the president and Congress is only matched by the hypocrisy and shamelessness of the self-professed conservative “originalist” Supreme Court justices who have the audacity to suggest they can fathom what the Founding Fathers meant and disregard all the changes since then, to actually make law. Five justices contradicting the 435 elected members of the House and 100 elected members of the Senate and the president, going further, reaching back into settled law and precedent to overturn women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, workers rights, environmental protection, to re-form this nation as a Catholic theocracy, not much different than Islamic theocracy.
Just a reminder: McConnell invented this “rule” of not confirming – not even giving President Obama’s nominee a hearing – even though the election was 10 months away (and Scalia’s seat was vacant for 400 days) because it was an election year, and that Obama purposely looked for a moderate, not a progressive, and not someone who could conceivably serve for 50 years on the bench, in choosing Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia. It really was a further demonstration of the disrespect he had for Obama, America’s first Black president, and, when Obama took office in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, McConnell said his first priority was not to help Americans seeing their lives come apart but to make Obama a “one-term president.” He stalled hundreds of judicial appointments so that he could fill them all – and hand Trump his only achievement Trump can crow about. B
McConnell’s does not necessarily see the swift filling of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat as energizing Republican turnout but because he expects to lose the White House and very possibly the Senate. Also, he wants a Supreme Court in Trump’s pocket to decide the dozens of outrageous court suits designed to suppress voting (the only way Trump can eke out a win in the Electoral College).
Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke out in Philadelphia, paying homage to Justice Ginsburg’s life and legacy and outrage over yet another theft of a Supreme Court seat that, despite the conservative minority in the country and majority’s rejection of their positions, will control the lives of every American for generations. Presidents may come and go, but these justices serve for life.
”This appointment isn’t about the past. It’s about the future. And the people of this nation are choosing the future right now,” Biden declared. “To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power.”
Here are Vice President’s remarks, highlighted, as prepared for delivery on September 20, 2020 in Philadelphia:
I attended mass earlier today and prayed for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her family.
The nation lost an icon, but they lost a mother, a grandmother, and a matriarch.
We know how hard that is to watch a piece of your soul absorb the cruelty and pain of that dreadful disease of cancer.
But as I spoke with her daughter and granddaughter last night, they made clear that until the very end she displayed the character and courage we would expect of her. She held their hand and gave them strength and purpose to carry on.
It’s been noted that she passed away on Rosh Hashanah.
By tradition, a person who dies during the Jewish New Year is considered a soul of great righteousness.
That was Ruth Bader Ginsgburg. A righteous soul.
It was my honor to preside over her confirmation hearings, and to strongly support her accession to the Supreme Court.
Justice Ginsburg achieved a standing few justices do. She became a presence in the lives of so many Americans, a part of the culture.
Yes there was humor in the mentions of the “Notorious RBG” and her impressive exercise routines. But it was so much more. She was a trailblazer, a role model, a source of hope, and a powerful voice for justice.
She was proof that courage and conviction and moral clarity can change not just the law, but also the world.
And I believe in the days and months and years to follow, she will continue to inspire millions of Americans all across this country. And together, we can — and we will — continue to be voices for justice in her name.
Her granddaughter said her dying words were “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
As a nation, we should heed her final call to us — not as a personal service to her, but as a service to the country at a crossroads.
There is so much at stake — the right to health care, clean air and water, and equal pay for equal work. The rights of voters, immigrants, women, and workers.
And right now, our country faces a choice. A choice about whether we can come back from the brink.
That’s what I’d like to talk about today.
Within an hour of news of her passing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg will receive a vote in the Senate.
The exact opposite of what he said when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia in 2016.
At that time, Majority Leader McConnell made up a rule based on the fiction that I somehow believed that there should be no nomination to the Court in an election year.
It’s ridiculous. The only rule I ever followed related to Supreme Court nominations was the Constitution’s obligation for Senators to provide advice and consent to the president on judicial nominees.
But he created a new one — the McConnell Rule: absolutely no hearing and no vote for a nominee in an election year.
Period. No caveats.
And many Republican Senators agreed. Including then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Including the current Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Who at the time said, and I quote verbatim:
“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsay Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination. And you could use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right.”
That is what Republicans said when Justice Scalia passed away — about nine months before Election Day that year. Now, having lost Justice Ginsburg less than seven weeks before Election Day this year — after Americans have already begun to cast their votes — they cannot unring the bell.
Having made this their standard when it served their interest, they cannot, just four years later, change course when it doesn’t serve their ends. And I’m not being naive.
I’m not speaking to President Trump, who will do whatever he wants.
I’m not speaking to Mitch McConnell, who will do what he does.
I’m speaking to those Senate Republicans out there who know deep down what is right for the country — not just for their party.
I’m speaking for the millions of Americans out there, who are already voting in this election. Millions of Americans who are voting because they know their health care hangs in the balance.
In the middle of the worst global health crisis in living memory, Donald Trump is at the Supreme Court trying to strip health coverage away from tens of millions of families and to strip away the peace of mind from more than 100 million people with pre-existing conditions.
If he succeeds, insurers could once again discriminate or drop coverage completely for people living with preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer.
And perhaps, most cruelly of all, if Donald Trump has his way, complications from COVID-19, like lung scarring and heart damage, could become the next deniable pre-existing condition.
Millions of Americans who are also voting because they don’t want nearly a half century of legal precedent to be overturned and lose their right to choose.
Millions of Americans who are at risk of losing their right to vote.
Millions of Dreamers who are at risk of being expelled from the only country they have ever known.
Millions of workers who are at risk of losing their collective bargaining rights.
Millions of Americans who are demanding that their voices be heard and that equal justice be guaranteed for all.
They know — we all know — what should happen now.
The voters of this country should be heard. Voting has already begun in some states.
And in just a few weeks, all the voters of this nation will be heard. They are the ones who should decide who has the power to make this appointment.
This appointment isn’t about the past. It’s about the future. And the people of this nation are choosing the future right now.
To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power.
I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it.
President Trump has already made it clear this is about power. Pure and simple.
Well, the voters should make it clear on this issue and so many others: the power in this nation resides with them — the people.
And even if President Trump wants to put forward a name now, the Senate should not act on it until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress.
If Donald Trump wins the election — then the Senate should move on his selection — and weigh that nominee fairly.
But if I win the election, President Trump’s nomination should be withdrawn.
As the new President, I should be the one who nominates Justice Ginsburg’s successor, a nominee who should get a fair hearing in the Senate before a confirmation vote.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re passing 200,000 American deaths lost to this virus. Tens of millions of Americans are on unemployment.
Health care in this country hangs in the balance before the Court.
And now, in a raw political move – this president and the Republican leader have decided to jam a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court through the United States Senate.
It’s the last thing we need in this moment.
Voters have already begun casting ballots in this country.
In just a few weeks, we are going to know who the voters of this nation have chosen to be their next president.
The United States Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance – to have their voice heard on who serves on the Court.
That moment is now — and their voice should be heard. And I believe voters are going to make it clear – they will not stand for this abuse of power.
There’s also discussion about what happens if the Senate confirms — on election eve – or in a lame duck after Donald Trump loses — a successor to Justice Ginsburg.
But that discussion assumes that we lose this effort to prevent the grave wrong that Trump and McConnell are pursuing here.
And I’m not going to assume failure at this point. I believe the voices of the American people should be heard.
This fight won’t be over until the Senate votes, if it does vote.
Winning that vote — if it happens — is everything.
Action and reaction. Anger and more anger. Sorrow and frustration at the way things are.
That’s the cycle that Republican Senators will continue to perpetuate if they go down this dangerous path they have put us on.
We need to de-escalate — not escalate.
So I appeal to those few Senate Republicans — the handful who will really decide what happens.
Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created.
Don’t go there.
Uphold your Constitutional duty — your conscience.
Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country.
We can’t keep rewriting history, scrambling norms, and ignoring our cherished system of checks and balances.
That includes this whole business of releasing a list of potential nominees that I would put forward.
It’s no wonder the Trump campaign asked that I release a list only hours after Justice Ginsburg passed away.
It’s a game to them, a play to gin up emotions and anger.
There’s a reason why no Presidential candidate other than Donald Trump has ever done such a thing.
First, putting a judge’s name on a list like that -could influence that person’s decision-making as a judge — and that’s wrong.
Second, anyone put on a list like that under these circumstances – will be the subject of unrelenting political attacks.
And because any nominee I would select would not get a hearing until 2021 at the earliest – she would endure those attacks for months on end without being able to defend herself.
Third, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, if I win, I will make my choice for the Supreme Court — not as part of a partisan election campaign — but as prior Presidents did.
Only after consulting Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate – and seeking their advice before I ask for their consent.
As everyone knows – I have made it clear that my first choice for the Supreme Court will make history as the first African American woman Justice.
I will consult with Senators in both parties about that pick, as well as with legal and civic leaders. In the end, the choice will be mine and mine alone.
But it will be the product of a process that restores our finest traditions – not the extension of one that has torn this country apart.
I’ll conclude with this.
As I’ve said in this campaign, we are in the battle for the soul of this country.
We face four historic crises. A once-in-a-generation pandemic. A devastating economic recession. The rise of white supremacy unseen since the 1960’s, and a reckoning on race long overdue. And a changing climate that is ravaging our nation as we speak.
Supreme Court decisions touch every part of these crises — every part of our lives and our future.
The last thing we need is to add a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss – deeper into the darkness.
If we go down this path, it would cause irreversible damage.
The infection this president has unleashed on our democracy can be fatal. Enough.
We must come together as a nation. Democrat, Republican, Independent, liberal, conservative. Everybody.
I’m not saying that we have to agree on everything. But we have to reason our way through to what ails us – as citizens, voters, and public servants. We have to act in good faith and mutual good will. In a spirit of conciliation, not confrontation.
This nation will continue to be inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but we should be guided by her as well.
By her willingness to listen, to hear those she disagreed with, to respect other points of view.
Famously, Justice Ginsburg got along well with some of the most conservative justices on the Court.
And she did it without compromising her principles – or clouding her moral clarity – or losing her core principles.
If she could do this, so can we.
How we talk to one another matters. How we treat one another matters. Respecting others matters.
Justice Ginsburg proved it’s important to have a spine of steel, but it’s also important to offer an open hand — and not a closed fist — to those you disagree with.
This nation needs to come together.
I have said it many times in this election. We are the United States of America.
There’s nothing we cannot do if we do it together. Maybe Donald Trump wants to divide this nation between Red States and Blue States.
Between representing those states that vote for him and ignoring those that don’t.
I do not.
I cannot — and I will not — be that president.
I will be a president for the whole country.
For those who vote for me and those who don’t.
We need to rise to this moment, for the sake of our country we love.