The latest on voting rights in the US

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 2213 GMT (0613 HKT) July 13, 2021
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3:17 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Biden: "We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War"

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden called attacks on voting rights "the most significant test" of American democracy since its Civil War in the 1860s.

"We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That's not hyperbole — since the Civil War," Biden said while speaking in Philadelphia.

He continued: "The Confederates back then never breached the Capitol as insurrectionists did on Jan. 6. I'm not saying this to alarm you. I'm saying this because you should be alarmed."

But Biden added that there is "good news": "It doesn't have to be this way."

"We have the means — we just need the will. The will to save and strengthen our democracy," Biden said.

3:33 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Biden: US elections are "going to face another test in 2022" and "we have to prepare now"

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden said that American democracy is "going to face another test in 2022" during the midterm elections.

He said that the US needs to prepare to face "a new wave of unprecedented voter suppression and raw and sustained election subversion" in 2022.

"We have to prepare now. As I said time and again, no matter what, you can never stop the American people from voting. They will decide and the power must always be with the people. That's why just like we did in 2020, we have to prepare for 2022," the President said in a speech in Philadelphia.


3:17 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Biden calls on Congress to repair the "damage done" and pass federal voting legislation

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden pushed for the passage of federal voting rights legislation during his remarks in Philadelphia today.

He said the fight to protect voting rights starts with "continuing the fight to pass" the For the People Act.

"That bill would help end voter suppression in states. Get dark money out of politics. Give voice to people. Create a fair district maps and end partisan political gerrymandering," the President explained.

Biden criticized Republicans for opposing "even debating, even considering For the People Act. Senate Democrats stood united to protect our democracy and the sanctity of the vote. We must pass the for the people act. It's national imperative."

Biden also highlighted the importance of passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. "To restore and expand voting protections and prevent voter suppression," he said.

Biden said the Supreme Court decision to again weaken the Voting Rights Act "harmful" and called on Congress to repair the "damage done"

"That's the important point. Puts the burden back on Congress to restore the voting rights act to its intended strength. As soon as Congress passes the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, I will sign it and let the whole world see it. That will be an important moment," Biden said.

3:23 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Biden: "The Big Lie is just that: A big lie'"

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden came down hard on former President Trump's attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election during his speech on voting rights in Philadelphia today.

"The Big Lie is just that: A big lie," Biden said.

The President talked about the level of scrutiny placed on the results of the 2020 election, pointing out that there has been no evidence found that the results were wrong.

"The 2020 election was the most scrutinized election ever in American history. Challenge after challenge brought to local, state and election officials, state legislatures, state and federal courts, even to the United States Supreme Court not once, but twice. More than 80 judges, including those appointed by my predecessor, heard the arguments. In every case neither cause nor evidence was found to undermine the national achievement of administering the historic election in the face of such extraordinary challenges," Biden said.

Biden noted that in 2020 more people voted in America — more than 150 million votes cast — than ever in the history of US elections and did so "in the middle of a once in a century pandemic."

2:58 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Biden: Voting rights is the "test of our time"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

In a speech addressing voting rights in the US, President Biden said that the right to vote should be "simple and straightforward."

"Some things in America should be simple and straightforward. Perhaps the most important of those things, the most fundamental of those things, is the right to vote. The right to vote freely... The right to vote fairly, the right to have your vote counted. The Democratic threshold is liberty. With it, anything is possible. Without it, nothing, nothing," the President said.  

"This is a test of our time," Biden said.

2:54 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

NOW: Biden delivers voting rights speech in Philadelphia

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc and Kate Sullivan

President Biden is delivering a highly anticipated speech on voting rights from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday, the President will make "the moral case" for voting rights in remarks centered around protecting ballot access in the face of "authoritarian and anti-American" restrictions.

The address from Biden comes in the aftermath of former President Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and as Republican-controlled legislatures have pressed ahead with new state laws imposing limits on voting.

Since the November election, state lawmakers have enacted 28 laws in 17 states that restrict ballot access, according to a June tally by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Biden will decry Republican obstruction to a sweeping election reform bill that Democrats argue is a necessary counter to state-level efforts to restrict voting access. The President will stress that the work to pass that legislation, the For the People Act, as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act "are only beginning," according to a White House official.

Biden will also call for a new coalition made up of advocates, activists, students, faith leaders, labor leaders and business executives "to overcome this un-American trend and meet the moment as far as turnout and voter education," the official said.

Where things stand in Congress: The President and his team have repeatedly previewed a major push on voting rights after Republicans in the US Senate blocked a sweeping election reform bill last month, but it remains unclear how much he can accomplish.

Passing new voting legislation in Congress will almost certainly require altering filibuster rules, since Democrats' slim majority in the Senate isn't enough to overcome GOP opposition — and it's not clear Democrat have the votes to pass a bill anyway.

Read more about Biden's speech here.

2:14 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

What civil rights leaders are saying ahead of Biden's voting rights speech 

From CNN's Nicquel Terry Ellis

President Biden is facing increasing pressure from Black civil rights leaders to take an aggressive stance on Congress eliminating the filibuster and passing federal legislation that would protect voters as the President prepares to deliver a major speech on voting rights Tuesday.

Black leaders say Biden has not acted swiftly enough on voting rights as a growing number of states pass laws that restrict voting access. His address in Philadelphia comes less than a week after the President met with the leaders of several civil rights organizations at the White House.

The group demanded that Biden go into communities and speak about what he was doing to protect voting rights, said Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, who attended the White House meeting.

The leaders also urged the Biden administration to do more to push Congress to approve the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Black voters, Campbell said, put Biden in office with the expectation that he would rally against GOP efforts to suppress their votes.

"We believe this is a state of emergency," Campbell said. "Because we don't have a strong voting rights act to push back on some of this, then we are looking at regression... and with African Americans, we have always had to have federal intervention."

According to the White House, Biden's speech Tuesday will include "remarks on actions to protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote."

Passing voting rights legislation has been an uphill battle for Democrats because of the filibuster, which means their slim majority in the Senate isn't enough to overcome GOP opposition. Moderate Democrats have opposed major changes to the rules, making the future of new voting laws unclear. Biden has also stopped short of supporting elimination of the filibuster but has expressed openness to making the practice harder to execute.

Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said there is no path to voting rights that does not require modifying or ending the filibuster.

Biden, he said, has the power to influence lawmakers and that it would be an "epic fail" if the President doesn't take a stand against the filibuster in his speech.

"The President's hands are never tied," Albright said.

Read more here.

2:09 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Vice President Harris to meet with Texas Democrats this week

From CNN's Jasmine Wright and Kaitlan Collins

Vice President Kamala Harris will meet this week with the Texas legislators "who broke quorum to block legislation that would have made it significantly harder for the people of Texas to vote," her office says. 

The Texas Democrats left the state Monday in an effort to block Republicans from passing a restrictive new voting law in the remaining 27 days of the special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Two chartered planes carrying the majority of the Democrats who left Texas for Washington, DC, landed at Dulles International Airport on Monday evening, a source familiar told CNN. They have largely kept their planning secret because they can be legally compelled to return to the state Capitol and believed law enforcement could be sent to track them down, two sources familiar with the Democrats' plans had told CNN earlier Monday.

Reporting from CNN's Clare Foran and Lauren Fox contributed to this post.

1:46 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Democratic lawmaker: We hope to see the President lean in "hard" on voting rights legislation

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury, Clare Foran and Lauren Fox

Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, of Maryland, said he hopes President Biden uses his authority to "lean in" on voting rights and begins pushing harder for the passage of the For the People Act.

Sarbanes told CNN's Ana Cabrera that he hopes Biden will use the bully pulpit of the presidency during his remarks today, to "lean in on these important issues of public policy. In this case, saving our democracy from the attacks that we're seeing across the country on the right to vote... We very much hope to see the President leaning in hard on this, describing what the threat is. But also focusing attention on what the solution is."

Sarbanes explained how the For the People Act is a key piece of voting rights legislation that could address "90% of the mischief we're seeing when it comes to blocking people's access."

He said he hopes the President "speaks to the importance of that legislation, and starts to reach out to Capitol Hill in a meaningful way to encourage legislators, lawmakers, senators, to do what it takes to get this across the finish line."

The For the People Act failed in the Senate last month after Republicans blocked the legislation.

A procedural vote to open debate on the legislation was defeated by a tally of 50-50, falling short of the 60 votes needed to succeed. Democrats were united in favor of the vote after securing support from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, but Republicans were united against it, causing the measure to fail to advance.