‘Your World’ on Biden’s voting rights speech
“Your World with Neil Cavuto” welcomed guests John Cornyn and Bob Cusack.,
This is a rush transcript of “Your World with Neil Cavuto” on January 11, 2022. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHARLES PAYNE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: We are live in Atlanta.
President Biden making his case today for voting rights legislation and maybe breaking the filibuster to do it. One person noticeably absent from today’s events in Atlanta, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Welcome, everyone. I’m Charles Payne, in for Neil Cavuto, and this is YOUR WORLD.
Steve Harrigan is in Atlanta with more — Steve.
STEVE HARRIGAN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Charles, we’re just minutes away from the vice president speaking.
After that, President Biden is going to make that pitch here at the consortium of historical black colleges and universities for voting rights.
Before he boarded Air Force One today, he emphasized how crucial the issue of voting rights is for the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is one of those defining moments. It really is. People are going to be judged. Where were they before and where were they after the vote? History is going to judge it. It’s that consequential.
And so, the risk is: making sure people understand just how important this is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIGAN: There are two voting rights bills right now stalled in the Senate.
As far as that goes, some Republicans have been critical of those bills, including Governor Kemp, who says this is a federal attempt to unconstitutionally take control over elections.
There has been criticism about this trip from the start, even before it happens, much of that criticism coming from the left, several activists in voting rights, as well as civil rights, trying to make the case that this is just another speech, that they don’t intend to be a prop for this speech.
The head of Georgia’s NAACP said, enough platitudes and niceties. And, as you mentioned, one of the key absences here, Stacey Abrams. She is a Democratic candidate for governor. And, of course, voting rights has always been her key issue. So, on the day President Biden comes to Atlanta to talk about voting rights, she says she has a scheduling conflict — Charles, back to you.
PAYNE: Yes, very curious. Steve, thank you very much.
So the question now, of course, is, where’s all of this heading?
With me now, The Hill editor in chief Bob Cusack.
Bob, it’s — we keep getting the sort of democracy is on the verge, is at stake here. You know, we’re hearing — this is the theme that’s being articulated on the left on almost everything that comes up for vote, and obviously this particular piece of legislation too, or this notion that maybe they could flip or not — make it a set-aside, filibuster, to pass its Voting Rights Act.
But the pressures from Republicans right now, right? I mean, still, you have two Democrats, at least two Democrats who are more or less on record saying that they’re not in favor of this.
BOB CUSACK, THE HILL: Yes, that’s right. You have got Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema. They do not want to get rid of the legislative filibuster. They want to do things on a much more bipartisan basis.
And there are a couple others beyond that, and, basically, a handful of senators maybe not as outspoken as Manchin and Sinema, but they’re not crazy about changing, including Senator Mark Kelly, who’s up for reelection from Arizona.
So this is really just a Democratic fight. Obviously, it’s a huge fight with the Republicans, but they’re not going to get any Republican votes. So when the president says, hey, this is a defining moment, well, he’s not been able to move members of his own party. He knows he’s not going to get any Republicans.
So that’s why the left is so upset at the White House, that a lot of progressive voting rights activists have said, hey, we’re not ready — we have seen the speeches. We need more than just going through the motions.
And that’s why I think it’s amazing that Stacey Abrams is not there today. I mean, scheduling conflict? When you have the president the vice president making a case, it’s got to be a pretty big appointment to miss that — this one.
PAYNE: And with democracy on the line. This is their line, not ours.
So, where does this stand with respect to the Constitution? You have enumerated powers on one hand with the federal government, right? You have got these reserved powers. And a lot of folks are saying, it’s pretty clear where this falls, but is it?
CUSACK: Well, it depends on who you ask.
As far as the threshold for 60 votes in the Senate, it’s not in the Constitution. It’s changed in the Senate. It’s been as high as, I believe, 67. And then now it’s obviously at the 60 mark. And that has fostered bipartisan legislation over the years, most notably the infrastructure bill that Biden signed into law last year.
CUSACK: So, this is a battle.
PAYNE: But with respect to voting states — do states have the rights to dictate their own voting laws?
CUSACK: Yes, and that’s what — Republicans have been, Charles, very aggressive in the last couple days, and I think more effective than they had been in December and earlier on this by saying, hey, if you’re going to get rid of the legislative filibuster, we’re going to do this. This is a federal takeover of state rights.
And they have been far more aggressive. And they said, listen, majorities always flip back and forth. And that’s why Mitch McConnell said, OK, well, if you do this, then we’re going to vote on these 12 dozen bills or these dozen-plus bills when we get the majority.
CUSACK: So, it’s a (AUDIO GAP)
PAYNE: Progressives, obviously, on certain mainstream cable channels, media channels, are saying, forget about next time, go for it now, call their bluff.
But, again, it gets back — and I want to circle back to Stacey Abrams not being there. It’s — could this be a some form of a silent protest?
Progressives in general seem to be pretty frustrated with the Biden administration right now.
CUSACK: Oh, extremely.
And behind the scenes of the last couple months, they were very upset that the Build Back Better proposal kept getting pushed back, pushed back, so that they couldn’t work on voting rights. And then the pressure got so intense from the left that Chuck Schumer, who, along with the president, have really raised expectations that this is going to get done.
And, honestly, I don’t see how it gets done when you need all these senators on the Democratic side to unite. On this issue, I don’t see it. So, raising expectations, and the snub from Abrams is only creating a worse headlines for Democrats.
And, Charles, remember, for midterm elections, you have got to have the base fired up. The Republican base is fired up because they’re hungry. The left is frustrated. And that means they may not show up in November of this year.
PAYNE: As far as voting itself is concerned, in 2020, you had 66.8 percent of eligible voters turn out. That was up from 61 percent in 2016.
Registered voters shot up to almost 73 percent from just 70 percent. I mean, 158 million people voted. It’s — where’s the crisis right now that – – this underlying urgency and this crisis that people are being shut out and unable to vote, when the data clearly states we had the most successful presidential election, arguably, in our — ever, but certainly in our lifetime?
CUSACK: Well, and that’s a very good point, Charles, because a lot of the states did change their rules in the wake of the pandemic that led to more flexibility on voting.
And, of course, that was the states’ decision. Some of them were controversial. But that’s where it is. I think that, if you look at people — Joe Biden got elected as kind of a centrist. The party has moved left. Biden has embraced a lot of the left’s progressive wish list.
And when independency, OK, this — you want to change voting laws, that’s fine. But if you’re doing it along strict party lines, you can’t get moderates like Susan Collins on the Republican side or Murkowski, then it doesn’t look so good. And there’s a backlash.
CUSACK: And that’s why Biden’s numbers, I think, partly have taken a hit.
Bob, thank you so much. Always appreciate it.
And, of course, we’re going to continue to monitor today’s event in Atlanta. And as soon as President Biden speaks, we will take you there.
Also coming up,as the president shifts focus to voting, he’s facing increased scrutiny over testing. How the administration is responding is next.
PAYNE: The White House is facing growing scrutiny over its handling of the pandemic.
FOX News White House correspondent Peter Doocy has more on the backlash — Peter.
PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And part of that backlash today, Charles, is because the president is down in Georgia to talk about voting rights, even though COVID cases in this country are on the rise, and he knows it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I am concerned about the pandemic just because it worldwide is not slowing up very much.
I’m confident we’re on the right track.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOOCY: Right track apparently translates to 1.5 million new COVID cases yesterday. That is a new record.
On Capitol Hill, even though some Democrats — even now, some Democrats are complaining about a lack of access to testing, as some Republicans wonder how it is that the pandemic has been passed on the president’s to-do list by voting rights and a few other major crises that are appearing on front pages.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): We have runaway inflation eating away at people’s money, and then, on top of that, you have got the threat of China and the Pacific region. You have got Russia on the verge of invading Ukraine.
You have got all these things going on in the world. And instead of focusing on that, these guys are out there giving speeches about a problem that doesn’t exist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOOCY: So, you look at the last couple months, President Biden failed to contain the pandemic, as promised. He failed to advance his social spending plan, the Build Back Better plan, as promised.
And now Democrats in the new year are deciding they’re going to try something different with voting rights — Charles.
PAYNE: Peter, thank you very much.
COVID also the focus today on Capitol Hill, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci facing questions from lawmakers on the administration’s Omicron response.
To FOX News congressional correspondent Chad Pergram with the latest — Chad.
CHAD PERGRAM, FOX NEWS SENIOR CAPITOL HILL PRODUCER: Good afternoon, Charles.
This was the first hearing on the pandemic of the new year. Lawmakers from both sides were furious about the lack of tests as Omicron spikes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): Tests are hard to find. They’re costly.
People are unable to find the at-home tests in pharmacies, online, where — they’re waiting in long lines, and often after that waiting days for results.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERGRAM: The administration promises home tests for Americans in a matter of weeks, but the GOP said the administration lost valuable time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): This administration has time and again squandered its opportunities and made worse in the decisions you have made on testing and treatment and, most crucially, in communications with the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERGRAM: There was verbal sparring between Senator Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci today, but Paul wasn’t the only one who had harsh words for Fauci.
Fauci drew the ire of Roger Marshall of Kansas, who is also a doctor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROGER MARSHALL (R-KS): You have lost your reputation. The American people don’t trust the words coming out of your mouth.
Every day you appear on TV, you do more damage than good when it comes to educating the public on COVID.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERGRAM: There will be more hearings later this year — Charles.
PAYNE: Chad, thank you very much.
Now President Biden speaking in Atlanta. Let’s watch.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
BIDEN: … from the essential. And they force us to confront hard truths about ourselves, about our institutions, and about our democracy.
In the words of Scripture, they remind us to hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate.
Last week, President Harris and I stood in the United States Capitol to observe one of those before and after moments in American history: January 6 insurrection on the citadel of our democracy.
Today, we come to Atlanta — the cradle of civil rights — to make clear what must come after that dreadful day when a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy.
We stand on the grounds that connect Clark Atlanta — Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and near Spelman College — the home of generations of advocates, activists, educators and preachers; young people, just like the students here, who have done so much to build a better America.
BIDEN: We visited the sacred Ebenezer Baptist Church and paused to prayed at the crypt of Dr. and Mrs. King, and spent time with their family. And here in the district — as was pointed out — represented and reflected the life of beloved friend, John Lewis.
In their lifetimes, time stopped when a bomb blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and murdered four little girls.
They stopped when John and many others seeking justice were beaten and bloodied while crossing the bridge at Selma named after the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
They stopped — time stopped, and they forced the country to confront the hard truths and to act — to act to keep the promise of America alive: the promise that holds that we’re all created equal but, more importantly, deserve to be treated equally. And from those moments of darkness and despair came light and hope.
Democrats, Republicans, and independents worked to pass the historic Civil Rights Act and the voting rights legislation. And each successive generation continued that ongoing work.
But then the violent mob of January 6, 2021, empowered and encouraged by a defeated former president, sought to win through violence what he had lost at the ballot box, to impose the will of the mob, to overturn a free and fair election, and, for the first time — the first time in American history, they — to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
They failed. They failed.
BIDEN: But democracy’s — but democracy’s victory was not certain, nor is democracy’s future.
That’s why we’re here today to stand against the forces in America that value power over principle, forces that attempted a coup — a coup against the legally expressed will of the American people — by sowing doubt, inventing charges of fraud, and seeking to steal the 2020 election from the people.
They want chaos to reign. We want the people to rule.
BIDEN: But let me be clear: This is not about me or Vice President Harris or our party; it’s about all of us. It’s about the people. It’s about America.
Hear me plainly: The battle for the soul of America is not over. We must stand strong and stand together to make sure January 6 marks not the end of democracy but the beginning of a renaissance of our democracy.
BIDEN: You know, for the right to vote and to have that vote counted is democracy’s threshold liberty. Without it, nothing is possible, but with it, anything is possible.
But while the denial of fair and free elections is un-democratic, it is not unprecedented.
Black Americans were denied full citizenship and voting rights until 1965. Women were denied the right to vote until just 100 years ago. The United States Supreme Court, in recent years, has weakened the Voting Rights Act. And now the defeated former president and his supporters use the Big Lie about the 2020 election to fuel torrent and torment and anti-voting laws — new laws designed to suppress your vote, to subvert our elections.
Here in Georgia, for years, you’ve done the hard work of democracy: registering voters, educating voters, getting voters to the polls. You’ve built a broad coalition of voters: Black, white, Latino, Asian American, urban, suburban, rural, working class, and middle class.
And it’s worked: You’ve changed the state by bringing more people, legally, to the polls.
BIDEN: That’s how you won the historic elections of Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff.
BIDEN: You did it — you did it the right way, the democratic way.
And what’s been the reaction of Republicans in Georgia? Choose the wrong way, the undemocratic way. To them, too many people voting in a democracy is a problem. So they’re putting up obstacles.
For example, voting by mail is a safe and convenient way to get more people to vote, so they’re making it harder for you to vote by mail.
The same way, I might add, in the 2020 Election, President Trump voted from behind the desk in the White House — in Florida.
Dropping your ballots off to secure drop boxes — it’s safe, it’s convenient, and you get more people to vote. So they’re limiting the number of drop boxes and the hours you can use them.
Taking away the options has a predictable effect: longer lines at the polls, lines that can last for hours. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. People get tired and they get hungry.
When the Bible teaches us to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, the new Georgia law actually makes it illegal — think of this — I mean, it’s 2020, and now ’22, going into that election — it makes it illegal to bring your neighbors, your fellow voters food or water while they wait in line to vote. What in the hell — heck are we talking about?
BIDEN: I mean, think about it.
BIDEN: That’s not America. That’s what it looks like when they suppress the right to vote.
And here’s how they plan to subvert the election: The Georgia Republican Party, the state legislature has now given itself the power to make it easier for partisan actors — their cronies — to remove local election officials.
Think about that. What happened in the last election? The former president and allies pursued, threatened, and intimidated state and local election officials.
Election workers — ordinary citizens — were subject to death threats, menacing phone calls, people stalking them in their homes.
Remember what the defeated former president said to the highest-ranking election official — a Republican — in this state? He said, quote, I just want to find 11,780 votes.
(LAUGHTER) He didn’t say that part.
BIDEN: He didn’t say, Count the votes. He said, find votes that he needed to win.
He failed because of the courageous officials — Democrats, Republicans — who did their duty and upheld the law.
BIDEN: But with this new law in Georgia, his loyal — his loyalists will be placed in charge of state elections.
BIDEN: What is that going to mean? Well, the chances for chaos and subversion are even greater as partisans seek the result they want — no matter what the voters have said, no matter what the count. The votes of nearly 5 million Georgians will be up for grabs if that law holds.
It’s not just here in Georgia. Last year alone, 19 states not proposed but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights. There were nearly 400 additional bills Republican members of state legislatures tried to pass. And now, Republican legislators in several states have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year.
Their endgame? To turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion — something states can respect or ignore.
Jim Crow 2. 0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion. It’s no longer about who gets to vote; it’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.
It’s not hyperbole; this is a fact.
Look, this matters to all of us. The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them. Simple as that. The facts won’t matter; your vote won’t matter. They’ll just decide what they want and then do it.
That’s the kind of power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies.
We must be vigilant.
And the world is watching. I know the majority of the world leaders — the good and the bad ones, adversaries and allies alike. They’re watching American democracy and seeing whether we can meet this moment. And that’s not hyperbole.
When I showed up at the G7 with seven other world leaders — there were a total of nine present — Vice President Harris and I have spent our careers doing this work — I said, America is back. And the response was, For how long? For how long?
As someone who’s worked in foreign policy my whole life, I never thought I would ever hear our allies say something like that.
Over the past year, we’ve directed federal agencies to promote access to voting, led by the vice president. We’ve appointed top civil rights advocates to help the U.S. Department of Justice, which has doubled its voting rights enforcement staff.
And today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge: Pass the Freedom to Vote Act.
BIDEN: Pass it now…
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BIDEN: … which would prevent voter suppression so that here in Georgia there’s full access to voting by mail, there are enough drop boxes during enough hours so that you can bring food and water as well to people waiting in line.
The Freedom to Vote Act takes on election subversion to protect nonpartisan electors officials, who are doing their job, from intimidation and interference.
It would get dark money out of politics, create fairer district maps and ending partisan gerrymandering.
BIDEN: Look, it’s also time to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
BIDEN: I’ve been having these quiet conversations with the members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet!
BIDEN: Folks, it’ll restore the strength of the Voting Rights Act of ’65 – – the one President Johnson signed after John Lewis was beaten, nearly killed on Bloody Sunday, only to have the Supreme Court weaken it multiple times over the past decade.
Restoring the Voting Rights Act would mean the Justice Department can stop discriminatory laws before they go into effect — before they go into effect.
BIDEN: The vice president and I have supported voting rights bills since day one of this administration. But each and every time, Senate Republicans have blocked the way. Republicans oppose even debating the issue. You hear me?
I’ve been around the Senate a long time. I was Vice President for eight years. I’ve never seen a circumstance where not one single Republican has a voice that’s ready to speak for justice now.
When I was a senator, including when I headed up the Judiciary Committee, I helped reauthorize the Voting Act three times. We held hearings. We debated. We voted. I was able to extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years.
In 2006, the Voting Rights Act passed 390 to 33 in the House of Representatives and 98 to 0 in the Senate with votes from 16 current sitting Republicans in this United States Senate. Sixteen of them voted to extend it.
The last year I was chairman, as some of my friends sitting down here will tell you, Strom Thurmond voted to extend the Voting Rights Act. Strom Thurmond.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Wow.
BIDEN: You can say that again: Wow. You have no idea how damn — how darn hard I worked on that one.
BIDEN: But, folks, then it was signed into law, the last time, by President George W. Bush.
You know, when we got voting rights extended in the 1980s, as I’ve said, even Thurmond supported it. Think about that. The man who led the longest – – one of the longest filibusters in history in the United States Senate in 1957 against the Voting Rights Act. The man who led and sided with the old Southern Bulls in the United States Senate to perpetuate segregation in this nation. Even Strom Thurmond came to support voting rights.
But Republicans today can’t and won’t. Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote. Not one. Not one.
We have 50-50 in the United States Senate. That means we have 51 presidents.
BIDEN: You all think I’m kidding.
BIDEN: I’ve been pretty good at working with senators my whole career. But, man, when you got 51 presidents, it gets harder. Any one can change the outcome.
Sadly, the United States Senate — designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body — has been rendered a shell of its former self. It gives me no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was honored to serve in the Senate.
But as an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote.
Let the majority prevail.
BIDEN: And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.
BIDEN: You know, last year, if I’m not mistaken, the filibuster was used 154 times. The filibuster has been used to generate compromise in the past and promote some bipartisanship. But it’s also been used to obstruct — including and especially obstruct civil rights and voting rights.
And when it was used, senators traditionally used to have to stand and speak at their desks for however long it took, and sometimes it took hours. And when they sat down, if no one immediately stood up, anyone could call for a vote or the debate ended.
But that doesn’t happen today. Senators no longer even have to speak one word. The filibuster is not used by Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart.
The filibuster has been weaponized and abused.
While the state legislatures’ assault on voting rights is simple — all you need in your House and Senate is a pure majority — in the United States Senate, it takes a supermajority: 60 votes, even to get a vote — instead of 50 — to protect the right to vote.
State legislatures can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities. If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority.
BIDEN: Today I’m making it clear: To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed…
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BIDEN: … to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.
BIDEN: When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate.
I make this announcement with careful deliberation, recognizing the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow.
And I make it with an appeal to my Republican colleagues, to those Republicans who believe in the rule of law: Restore the bipartisan tradition of voting rights.
The people who restored it, who abided by it in the past were Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush. They all supported the Voting Rights Act.
Don’t let the Republican Party morph into something else. Restore the institution of the Senate the way it was designed to be.
Senate rules were just changed to raise the debt ceiling so we wouldn’t renege on our debt for the first time in our history and prevent an economic crisis. That was done by a simple majority.
As Senator Warnock said a few weeks ago in a powerful speech: If we change the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, we should be able to change the rules to protect the heart and soul of our democracy.
BIDEN: He was right.
In the days that followed John Lewis’s death, there was an outpouring of praise and support across the political spectrum.
But as we stand here today, it isn’t enough just to praise his memory. We must translate eulogy into action. We need to follow John Lewis’s footsteps. We need to support the bill in his name.
Just a few days ago, we talked about — up in the Congress and in the White House — the event coming up shortly to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. And Americans of all stripes will praise him for the content of his character.
But as Dr. King’s family said before, it’s not enough to praise their father. They even said: On this holiday, don’t celebrate his birthday unless you’re willing to support what he lived for and what he died for.
BIDEN: The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation’s history.
We will choose — the issue is: Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadows, justice over injustice?
I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend the right to vote, our democracy against all enemies — foreign and, yes, domestic.
BIDEN: And the question is: Where will the institution of the United States Senate stand? Every senator — Democrat, Republican, and independent — will have to declare where they stand, not just for the moment, but for the ages.
Will you stand against voter suppression? Yes or no? That’s the question they’ll answer. Will you stand against election subversion? Yes or no? Will you stand for democracy? Yes or no?
And here’s one thing every senator and every American should remember: History has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voters’ rights. And it will be even less kind for those who side with election subversion.
So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?
At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the — on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?
This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.
BIDEN: And if you do that, you will not be alone. That’s because the struggle to protect voting rights has never been borne by one group alone.
We saw Freedom Riders of every race. Leaders of every faith marching arm in arm. And, yes, Democrats and Republicans in Congress of the United States and in the presidency.
I did not live the struggle of Douglass, Tubman, King, Lewis, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, and countless others — known and unknown.
I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds. But I walked other grounds. Because I’m so damn old, I was there as well.
BIDEN: You think I’m kidding, man.
BIDEN: It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested. Anyway…
BIDEN: But their struggles here — they were the ones that opened my eyes as a high school student in the late — in the late ’50s and early ’60s. They got me more engaged in the work of my life.
And what we’re talking about today is rooted in the very idea of America — the idea that Annell Ponder, who graduated from Clark Atlanta, captured in a single word. She was a teacher and librarian who was also an unyielding champion of voting rights.
In 1963 — when I was just starting college at university — after registering voters in Mississippi, she was pulled off a bus, arrested, and jailed, where she was brutally beaten.
In her cell, next to her, was Fannie Lou Hamer, who described the beating this way, and I quote: I could hear the sounds of licks and horrible screams. They beat her, I don’t know how long. And after a while, she began to pray, and asked God to have mercy on those people.
Annell Ponder’s friends visited her the next day. Her face was badly swollen. She could hardly talk.
But she managed to whisper one word: Freedom. Freedom — the only word she whispered.
After nearly 250 years since our founding, that singular idea still echoes. But it’s up to all of us to make sure it never fades, especially the students here — your generation that just started voting — as there are those who are trying to take away that vi — vote you just started to be able to exercise.
But the giants we honor today were your age when they made clear who we must be as a nation. Not a joke. Think about it. In the early ’60s, they were sitting where you’re sitting. They were you. And like them, you give me much hope for the future.
Before and after in our lives — and in the life of the nation — democracy is who we are, who we must be — now and forever. So, let’s stand in this breach together. Let’s love good, establish justice in the gate.
And remember, as I said, there is one — this is one of those defining moments in American history: Each of those who vote will be remembered by class after class, in the ’50s and ’60s — the 2050s and ’60s. Each one of the members of the Senate is going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote and where they stood after the vote.
There’s no escape. So, let’s get back to work.
As my grandfather Finnegan used to say every time I walked out the door in Scranton, he’d say, Joey, keep the faith. Then he’d say, no, Joey, spread it.
Let’s spread the faith and get this done.
BIDEN: May God bless you all. And may God protect the sacred right to vote.
BIDEN: Thank you. I mean it. Let’s go get this done. Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
PAYNE: President Biden just finishing a passionate speech, really to get not just the voting rights act passed, but really to get rid of the filibuster. And that really is the breaking news.
It is official, the president of the United States, at least in this particular instance, thinks that we should get rid of the filibuster.
I want to bring back The Hill editor in chief Bob Cusack.
Bob, there’s a lot of areas I want to go over, but, first and foremost, it seems intriguing to me, because this speech was ostensibly to his fellow Democrats when. president Biden said over and over that there are 51 presidents right now, he met 51 Democrats who are president right now, particularly to, you and I talked about earlier, of Joe Manchin and Senator Sinema, but perhaps even others.
So, this was a speech where, of course, the Republicans were the villains, but the threat to his fellow Democrats is, if you don’t do what I’m saying right now, you will also be a villain.
CUSACK: That’s — no, that’s right, Charles.
I mean, it was a very interesting speech, that he didn’t name senators, Democratic senators like Manchin or Sinema. He went after Republicans, but, really, he’s trying to get their vote. And we’re coming up to a vote in honor of Martin Luther King holiday next week.
And, listen, they don’t have the votes yet. And I don’t think — honestly, I don’t think this speech changed anything. The White House is trying to go all out to show that it’s trying as hard as it can. But progressive activists are also coming back and saying, listen, you need to get the votes. You’re the president.
And he has not been able to deliver. And, also, remember that Joe Biden was elected as kind of: I’m going to bring the parties together.
CUSACK: Well, he certainly hasn’t brought the parties together on this issue and hasn’t brought his own party at least completely united. And they have to be completely united.
They — sometimes, Democrats have been acting over the last year or so like they have a 60-seat majority or a 57-seat majority. They don’t. They have a 50 seat majority and basically the same in the House. And that’s why it’s been a struggle to pass some controversial bills.
PAYNE: Yes, and a lot of contradictions.
When the president says majority rule, then, in effect, if they were to vote on a filibuster, getting rid of it, the majority would vote against it. When the president brought up dark money, in the last election, a billion dollars, but President Biden got $174 million in anonymous donations. President — back then, President Trump only got $25 million.
When he talked about the filibuster and its vicious, insidious nature and its racist history, well, as it turns out, from 2019 to 2020, Democrats use it 328 times, shattering the record. So, I mean, the hypocrisy is on full display there, Bob.
And I just don’t know that the urgency to — again, it’s — he was there, he was elected to be a uniter, a uniter of all Americans. And it’s just — it’s not happening. And now you can even feel, to your point, the fissures with — even in the cracks in the Democratic Party itself starting to widen.
And remember, years ago, it was the now late Harry Reid who changed the Senate rules for nominations, that you no longer needed 60, you could just do majority. And then that led to Mitch McConnell changing the rules for the Supreme Court along those lines, but it was Democrats who kind of started that process.
And, here, they want to do it again. And I think you’re going to have a very dramatic vote, but a vote that is going to fail. And it is — then I think Democrats are going to have to say, OK, let’s — we have to move on and move back to Build Back Better.
CUSACK: And it’s unclear if they have the votes for that either, Charles.
PAYNE: Bob, hold right there for me, if you can, please.
I’m going to go back to Chad Pergram on Capitol Hill for some instant reaction — Chad.
PERGRAM: Well, Bob Cusack is probably right. This really didn’t move the meter here on Capitol Hill.
Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, kind of doubled down in his remarks today, saying, look, it is really playing with fire if we are going to change the filibuster. That said, he has cracked the door open to some other procedural changes, maybe making senators actually stand on the floor and filibuster, like you saw in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” not kind of phoning it in, where you can kind of do this.
That tradition started where you could kind of phone in a filibuster in the 1970s.
But something is very important here. There’s kind of this two-step that the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is employing. He is simultaneously putting pressure on people like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who are unwilling to do a special carve-out, a la the nuclear option that Bob Cusack referred to, with Harry Reid cracking the door on all nominations, and then the same thing that Mitch McConnell did in 2017 to confirm Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court nominees.
Legislation, which is what we’re dealing with here, is the only bastion where the filibuster still has providence right now. And so, if you’re unwilling to get 51 votes or unable to get 51 votes, you’re kind of stuck.
So what is the other two-step here? He’s trying to weaponize this and turn this around on Republicans, portraying them as obstructionists, Charles.
Real quick, the sort of notion here, though, for Senator Manchin certainly has been, once you make an exception, the camel’s nose under the tent. And, to a degree, President Biden actually corroborated that by saying — or referencing the fact that an exception was made for the most recent budget deal.
And so once these — quote, unquote — “exceptions” are made, you start to equivocate them. OK, if it what was made for that, can’t we make it for this?
I mean, isn’t that the slippery slope we’re talking about?
PERGRAM: You’re right. This is Pandora’s box, because then people will say, well, how about statehood for Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C.? How about a status change for immigration? Everybody would be banging on Chuck Schumer’s door, saying, what about us?
PERGRAM: And, in fact, you could argue that that was not a change for the debt ceiling just a few weeks ago, because they actually had a vote, a procedural vote to break a filibuster. They actually went through that process. It’s a little bit different.
PAYNE: Chad, we got to let you go. Thank you so much for your insight.
Folks, we will be right back with Senator John Cornyn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Today, I’m making it clear.
To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed, to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BIDEN: When it comes to protecting majority rule in America, the majority should rule in the United States Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAYNE: President Biden endorsing getting rid of the filibuster, sort of paraphrasing Malcolm X, by any means necessary.
My next guest says, though, it’s a wrong move.
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn joins me now.
Senator, it was an impassioned speech, certainly. And the audience appreciated it. He wove — he wove in the civil rights battle, and to January 6, and then, of course, this being the next major showdown for America.
Is that how you see it, the next major inflection — where we should be inflecting on who we are as a people? Is this our test?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Well, it’s a false narrative, Charles.
And the president, I’m a little embarrassed for him, because he doesn’t even have members of his own political party on board in the Senate, much less those who boycotted his appearance in Atlanta, people like Stacey Abrams.
And then this is diametrically opposed to the position that the president took when he was in the Senate, as he was for many, many years, and when the shoe was on the other foot.
The truth is, this is not about voting rights. This is about a partisan political power grab. And they’re just trying to dress it up and sell it as something else. And I just don’t think the American people are buying it.
PAYNE: And, again, in the 2000s — from 2019 to 2020, Democrats used the filibuster 328 times. They shattered a record.
A year-and-a-half later, it’s the most insidious device ever made, it’s racist in nature, and it must be removed. It’s just — it’s hard to — it’s hard to square that, isn’t it?
CORNYN: Yes, I mean, it’s — this — the old videotape is not going to go away. But they don’t seem to care.
They don’t seem to care that their position is hypocritical and opportunistic, when they happen to be in the majority. Look, the filibuster, which is basically a requirement that legislation be bipartisan, because it takes both parties to come together to meet that 60- vote threshold, that’s for the good of the country.
And it’s good public policy. It forces us to do what doesn’t come natural, which is to work together. And I think that’s what the American people want from us.
PAYNE: Some folks are saying, though, that the narrative that it’s this way to protect from the tyranny of a majority is wrong — is wrong, that that’s not why it’s there. There’s some who even question, continue to question the constitutionality of it.
What do you say to those folks?
CORNYN: Well, the argument that a simple majority should be able to pass a law that affects 330 million people is simply inconsistent with our history and our — the design of our Constitution, which separates powers, rather than concentrates them, because we saw that as the protection of our freedoms.
But the fact of the matter is, this is a simple, expedient — they’re willing to say and do anything to get what they want. But, thankfully, members of their own party are not on board. They’re not going to succeed. This is going to be another example of President Biden and his party overpromising and underdelivering.
PAYNE: When President Biden talked about the — not being able to get folks in line water, now we do know that the law says poll workers can give them water.
But those kinds of things resonate with people out there, seems mean- spirited. What do you say to folks who say, that’s just doesn’t make sense? Why couldn’t a family member bring me a sandwich if I’m waiting in line for an hour to vote?
CORNYN: Well, that’s no reason to nationalize the elections in a one-size- fits-all.
The Democrats are the party of government. They believe government is the answer to all of our problems, which means they want to crowd out the opportunity for different states to maybe experiment with different ways of holding elections, and then learn what the best practices are.
But they — what they don’t want to tell you is that they want to eliminate voter I.D., which is also broadly supported by bipartisan majorities. And they want to — they want to mandate ballot harvesting, which would allow people to go into nursing homes, political operatives, get people to vote in their nursing home and in vulnerable condition, and then cast her ballot for them.
And there’s plenty of opportunity for mischief and — with ballot harvesting. And the states, I think, are within their rights to ban it.
PAYNE: Sir, I got just 10 seconds, but this narrative now that’s being repeated over and over that, if you — we don’t vote Democratic in this country in the midterms and next election, that democracy — democracy is over?
CORNYN: Well, that’s a crazy statement.
And majorities come and majorities go. The midterm election historically for the party in power is not a good one.
CORNYN: They’re going to lose the House. And I hope and expect they will lose the Senate too.
And that will be divided government.
CORNYN: Perhaps that would be something the American people would like, is divided government.
PAYNE: I just think we should have greater faith in America, bottom line.
Some — like you said, power shifts, but we are still one united country.
Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
PAYNE: “THE FIVE.”
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