CNN town hall with President Biden

By Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT) July 22, 2021
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9:30 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden says efforts by GOP legislators to curb voting rights are "Jim Crow on steroids"

From CNN's DJ Judd

(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)
(Maddie McGarvey for CNN)

President Biden blasted efforts by Republican legislators to curb voting rights during a CNN town hall Wednesday, calling it “Jim Crow on steroids,” while still maintaining his support for the legislative filibuster which stands in the way of Democrats passing federal legislation on a party-line basis. 

“I stand by what I said — never before has there been an attempt by state legislatures to take over the ability to determine who won — not count the votes, determine who won,” Biden warned.

“With election officials across the board that they're deciding to push out of the way, and if in fact tomorrow, as they say, we're running last time and these laws had been in effect, that are these changes, in Georgia, the Georgia legislature says, ‘Oh, Biden won by multiple thousand votes,’ they could say, ‘We don't think it was legit,’ and the state legislature votes, ‘We're gonna send electors up to Congress to vote for Trump, not Biden’ — That’s never ever ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever been tried before. This is Jim Crow on steroids, what we're talking about,” Biden said. 

The President pointed to what he described as “the abuse of the filibuster,” calling the use of the filibuster “pretty overwhelming."

Pressed by CNN’s Don Lemon, the President maintained that, despite the severity of the threat to voting rights, he would not support nuking the legislative filibuster. 

“I want to make sure we bring along, not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know know better, they know better than this,” Biden said. “And what I don't want to do is get wrapped up right now, and the argument was that this is all about the filibuster, or look, the American public, you can't stop them from voting.”

“There's no reason to protect [the filibuster], other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos, nothing will get done, right? Nothing at all will get done, and there’s a lot at stake,” Biden added.

Some more context: State lawmakers have enacted nearly 30 laws since the 2020 election that restrict ballot access, according to a new tally as of June 21 by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

The 28 total laws in 17 states mark a new record for restrictive voting laws since 2011, when the Brennan Center recorded 19 laws enacted in 14 state legislatures.

9:20 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden was just asked about the latest legal blow to DACA. Here are key things to know.

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez, Tierney Sneed and Rachel Janfaza

(CNN)
(CNN)

President Biden is being asked about the latest legal blow to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), the Obama-era program shielding certain undocumented immigrants from deportation.

A federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled that DACA is illegal and blocked new applicants.

The ruling from Judge Andrew Hanen would bar future applications. It does not immediately cancel current permits for hundreds of thousands of people — though it once again leaves them in devastating legal limbo and is a reminder of the uncertainty they face.

DACA, created in 2012, was intended to provide temporary reprieve to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — a group often described as "Dreamers" — many of whom are now adults.

But almost a decade since the program was established, DACA is still one of the only signs of potential relief for undocumented immigrants looking to remain and work in the US.

Hanen, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled that Congress had not granted the Department of Homeland Security the authority to create DACA and that it prevented immigration officials from enforcing removal provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

But he noted that DACA is part of the current American fabric.

"Hundreds of thousands of individual DACA recipients, along with their employers, states, and loved ones, have come to rely on the DACA program," Hanen wrote in a separate ruling Friday night. "Given those interests, it is not equitable for a government program that has engendered such a significant reliance to terminate suddenly."

President Biden on Saturday called the ruling "deeply disappointing" and said the US Department of Justice intends to appeal the decision.

Congress remains the only body that can provide a permanent solution for DACA recipients through legislation, but immigration legislation has been stalled for years and Democrats immediately called for action given Friday's order.

Read more about the ruling here.

9:37 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden: There's no reason to protect the filibuster except that it would throw Congress into chaos

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

(CNN)
(CNN)

President Biden said that he doesn't believe the filibuster has to be completely removed for voting rights legislation to move forward.

Biden acknowledged that abuse of the filibuster has been "pretty overwhelming" recently and that he would like to revert back to the rule of where lawmakers had to "maintain the floor" in order to use it.

Pressed by CNN's Don Lemon on how the filibuster has been historically used to disenfranchise people of color and if the filibuster is more important than protecting people's voting rights, Biden said, "No, it's not."

Biden acknowledged that the rule is a relic of the Jim Crow era, but added, "There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done, nothing at all will get done. And there's a lot at stake."

Biden also said that he wants to sign federal voting rights with GOP support.

"What I also want to do, I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know, know better. They know better than this. What I don't want to do is get wrapped up ... in the argument whether or not this is all about the filibuster," Biden said.

Biden added, "The American public, you can't stop them from voting. More people voted last time than any time in American history in the middle of the worst pandemic in history, more people did. And they showed up. They're going to show up again. They're going to do it again. But what I want to do is I'm trying to bring the country together. And I don't want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before."

Watch the moment:

11:48 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden: Existing gun laws are not being enforced 

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

(CNN)
(CNN)

President Biden tonight suggested there is little he can do to address gun violence on a legislative level due to the partisan gridlock in Congress, but pointed to executive actions he is taking to address a rise in shootings across the nation.

"The people who are in fact using those weapons are acquiring them illegally," he said of perpetrators of mass shooting incidents. "...So what happens is I've gotten ATF... I have them increase their budget and increase their capacity along with the Justice Department to go after the gun shops that are not abiding by the law of doing background checks."

He also pledged to launch probes into shadow gun dealers and weapons dealers who "are not abiding by the law."

"We are going to launch major investigations to shut those guys down and put some them in jail for what they are doing, selling these weapons," he said. 

As of the beginning of June, more than 8,100 people have died from gun violence in the US in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive, with over 240 mass shootings as of June 1. In May, the archive told CNN there has been a 23% uptick in deaths from gun violence this year.

Where things stand in Congress: The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed two bills on March 11 that would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales. The bills face a steep uphill climb in the Senate as Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority and would need significant Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.

Read more about what Congress is considering on gun reform here.

CNN's Daniella Diaz and Jessica Dean contributed reporting to this post. 

11:42 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden: I don't care if you think I'm "Satan reincarnate" you can't say "nothing happened" on Jan. 6

From CNN's Allie Malloy

(CNN)
(CNN)

President Biden continued to call for an investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, telling CNN's Don Lemon, “I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnate, the fact is you can’t look at that television and say, nothing happened on the 6th."

Biden was asked at CNN's town hall his reaction to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulling his five GOP members from the Jan. 6 select committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of them earlier Wednesday.

"You can't listen to people who say: this is a peaceful march," Biden told the audience in Cincinnati.

Biden went on to criticize Republicans and conspiracy theories, referring to "venom" being spread and warned that the rest of the world is watching America and whether America is "really back."

The President also specifically referenced QAnon telling the audience, "The idea that the Democrats or Biden are hiding people and sucking the blood of children... we've got to get beyond this," adding, "this is not who we are."

Asked how he believes anything can done in Washington, when investigating the insurrection can't even be agreed upon, Biden showed optimism, telling the audience, "I have faith in the American people."

Some more context: Earlier Wednesday, House Republicans balked at participating in the House committee that's investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on Wednesday after Pelosi rejected two of the five Republicans McCarthy had tapped for the panel.

Pelosi's decision to reject the two Republicans — and McCarthy's response to pull the rest his members — injected new fuel into the partisan fight over the select committee that's been raging since Democrats created the panel last month to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

11:39 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden: Restaurant and tourism industries "going to be in a bind for a little while"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

(CNN)
(CNN)

As the US economy attempts to recover following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, President Biden suspects certain hospitality industries may continue to struggle.

"I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a bind for a little while," Biden told John Lanni, an owner and co-founder of a restaurant group.

The President was quick to point out that his administration had worked to keep restaurants afloat amid the pandemic, telling Lanni, "we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants could stay open."

As CNN's Don Lemon pressed the President on whether or not Americans were steering clear of securing gainful employment in favor of collecting more lucrative unemployment benefits, Biden challenged the notion.

"I see no evidence it had any serious impact on it," Biden said, suggesting instead that Lanni and others in the foodservice industry are struggling to fill roles only because Americans have opted to change careers.

"There's a lot of openings now in jobs and people are beginning to move. Beginning to move," the President said, adding "there's a lot of people who are looking to change their occupation. But I could be wrong."

8:55 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden still believes bipartisanship can work, but says "the well has been so poisoned" over the past 4 years

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

President Biden, once again pointing to his history of compromise while working in the Senate and as vice president, said he still believes bipartisanship can produce results in Congress, but conceded that the Trump-era did severe damage to working across the aisle.

“I spent a lot of time as a senator and vice president. I'm going to say something outrageous, I don't know you'll find any Republican I ever worked with who says I ever broke my word, didn't do exactly what I said I would do and keep my word. And I was able to get an awful lot of compromises put together to do really good things, to change things,” Biden said during CNN’s presidential town hall in Ohio.

“And I still believe that's possible, but the well has been so poisoned over the last four years, and even now there's still this lingering effort,” he added.

The President said he has had Republicans privately tell him that they feel he is right, but if they were to vote with him, they would face a primary challenge. Despite that, however, Biden said he does sense a shift towards more bipartisanship.

“I think that's all beginning to move. I don't mean overnight, don't get me wrong, I'm not playing out some panacea here, but I think people are figuring out that if we want to… I've always found you get rewarded for doing what you think at the time is the right thing and people really believe you believe it's the right thing to do. And so I think you’re seeing it come together,” Biden said.

The President has faced calls to either blow up or overhaul the filibuster during his first six months in office as some of his major legislative priorities face Republican opposition, however he has thus far resisted those calls. Biden has however expressed a desire to return to the talking filibuster.

11:38 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden was just asked about his stance on the filibuster. Here's what the Senate procedure does.

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

The fight over voting rights has once again put the filibuster front and center. President Biden was just asked during the town hall about his stance on the Senate procedure and whether Congress should get rid of it.

Passing new federal voting legislation in Congress that Biden advocated for earlier this month will almost certainly require altering filibuster rules, since Democrats' slim majority in the Senate isn't enough to overcome GOP opposition.

In his remarks on voting rights on July 13, the President stopped short of embracing changes to the Senate procedure, despite calls from civil rights groups and other Democrats.

But what is a filibuster, and why do Democrats want to change it? The short version of the story is that Democrats want to reinterpret Senate rules so they can use just 50 votes to pass things like the voting rights bill or Biden's massive infrastructure package.

According to the Senate website — which has its own glossary — a filibuster is this: "Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions."

These days, it's shorthand for anytime senators demand a supermajority to cut off debate and move to an actual vote on just about anything.

When people talk about ending the filibuster, what they really mean is reinterpreting Senate rules around cloture so that legislation could pass by a simple majority instead of being held up by a minority.

Because Democrats have only 50 votes right now, every one of them needs to be on board to change the Senate rules — and they could be changed back in the future. Currently, moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are not in favor of changing it.

Read more about the filibuster here.

CNN's Kevin Liptak, Paul LeBlanc and Kate Sullivan contributed reporting to this post.

11:37 p.m. ET, July 21, 2021

Biden says the world is wondering about America as conspiracies spread

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

President Biden warned tonight that the US' reputation is suffering abroad as conspiracy theories like QAnon continue to run rampant through American culture.

"The kind of things that are being said of late," said Biden of conspiracy theories. "...We've got to get beyond this."

He said leaders of nations he spoke with at the G7 Summit in June were incredulous when he tried to tell them that, "America is back."

"The rest of the world is starting to wonder about us," said Biden. "...Heads of state said 'Are you really back?'...Will the country ever get it together?"