Biden implores voters to save democracy from lies, violence

Zeke Miller
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — After weeks of reassuring talk about America's economy and inflation, President Joe Biden turned Wednesday night to a darker, more urgent message, warning in the final days of midterm election voting that democracy itself is under threat from former President Donald Trump's election-denying lies and the violence he said they inspire.

Pointing in particular to the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, he said that Trump's false claims about a stolen election have “fueled the dangerous rise of political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.”

Six days before major midterm elections, Biden said, “As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America, for governor, for Congress, for attorney general, for secretary of state, who won’t commit to accepting the results of the elections they’re in.”

“That is the path to chaos in America.," he declared. "It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And, it is un-American.”

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The president, who has been focused on drawing an economic contrast between Democrats and the GOP, shined a spotlight on “ultra MAGA” Republicans — a reference to Trump's “Make America Great Again" slogan — calling them a minority but “driving force” of the Republican Party.

Pointing to mounting concerns over political violence as well as threats of America's long tradition of hard-fought but peaceful and accurate elections, he said these Republicans are “trying to succeed where they failed in 2020 to suppress the rights of voters and subvert the electoral system itself,.”

The speech came days after a man seeking to kidnap House Speaker Pelosi severely injured her husband, Paul Pelosi, in their San Francisco home and as physical threats have rattled members of Congress and election workers.

“There’s an alarming rise in the number of people in this country condoning political violence or simply remaining silent,” Biden said. “The silence is complicity.”

Emphasizing that it is the first federal election since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and Trump's attempts to overturn the will of voters in the 2020 presidential election, Biden called on voters to reject candidates who have denied the results of the vote — which even Trump's administration declared to be free of any widespread fraud or interference.

President Joe Biden speaks about threats to democracy ahead of next week's midterm elections, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Columbus Club in Union Station, near the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Biden asked voters to “think long and hard about the moment we are in.”

“In a typical year, we are not often faced with the question of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put it at risk,” he said. “But we are this year.”

Biden delivered his remarks from Washington’s Union Station, blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the White House said, just six days before polls close on Nov. 8 and as more than 27 million Americans have already cast their ballots.

“It’s from Capitol Hill, because that is where there was an attempt to subvert our democracy,” said White House senior adviser Anita Dunn told Axios, referencing to the Jan. 6 attack.

“The threat of political violence which most Americans find abhorrent, the idea that you would use violence to further your political means, it’s something that unites almost all Americans and that we can all be united against, and obviously, we’ve seen horrible things happen quite recently,” Dunn said.

Previewing Biden's remarks, she said the Democratic president “will be very clear tonight that he is speaking to people who don’t agree with him on any issues, who don’t agree on his agenda, but who really can unite behind this idea of this fundamental value of democracy.”

“What we are seeing is an alarming number of Republican officials suggest they will not accept the results of this election," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“This is not a regular moment in time," she added. “He’s going to call it all out.”

Before Biden's speech U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said he’s reviewed the attack on Pelosi's husband and believes today’s political climate calls for more resources and better security for members of Congress after a massive increase in threats to lawmakers following Jan. 6. He also made a rare call to stop the rancorous conspiracy talk that has swirled around the attack.

“Our brave men and women are working around the clock to meet this urgent mission during this divisive time,” he said in a statement. “In the meantime, a significant change that will have an immediate impact will be for people across our country to lower the temperature on political rhetoric before it’s too late.”

Biden last delivered a prime-time speech on what he called the “continued battle for the soul of the nation” on Sept. 1 outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, in which he condemned the “MAGA forces" of Donald Trump and his adherents as a threat to America's system of government.

“They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country,” Biden said then.

The new remarks come as hundreds of candidates who have falsely denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election are on ballots across the country, with many poised to be elected to critical roles overseeing elections.

In contrast to the September remarks, which drew criticism from some corners for being paid for by taxpayers, Biden's Wednesday night speech is being hosted by the Democratic National Committee.

“The president will address the threat of election deniers and those who seek to undermine faith in voting and democracy; and the stakes for our democracy in next week’s election,” the DNC said.

Many Americans remain pessimistic about the state of U.S. democracy. An October poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that just 9% of adults think democracy is working “extremely” or “very well,” while 52% say it’s not working well.