Live: Biden warns democracy is at stake in pre-midterm speech
With Election Day for the 2022 midterms just around the corner, President Biden has delivered a prime-time speech touching on threats to democracy, including misinformation and possible election violence.
Here's what you need to know:
- Federal agencies released an internal bulletin late last week warning of a heightened threat from domestic violent extremists.
- The speech comes just days after Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, was attacked in his home.
- The speech, which was held at the Capitol-adjacent Union Station, was hosted by the Democratic National Committee.
You can re-watch the speech here.
This blog is over — but don't go too far
We're going to stop updating this live blog for today, but NPR's coverage of President Biden, the midterm elections, misinformation and domestic violence is far from over.
And be sure to head back to NPR.org for Election Day next Tuesday. We'll bring you the live race results and helpful analysis you need to make sense of the elections.
See you soon!
The 2020 ‘Big Lie’ claims are still being litigated
President Biden said in his Wednesday night address that former President Donald Trump's "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him is at the root of America's uptick in political violence.
Trump's refusal to concede and admit that he lost has "fueled the dangerous rise of voter intimidation over the last few years," Biden said, including threats to election officials and, most recently, politicians and their families.
And even though it has been nearly two years since the 2020 election, litigation surrounding the "Big Lie" is ongoing.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, has been ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to testify before a grand jury in Georgia in line with a subpoena he had hoped to dodge.
Graham had requested that the high court block the subpoena under a constitutional clause protecting senators from being questioned about their legislative actions. The court denied his request but limited the questions that the grand jury can ask him.
State legislative races cast as democracy's front lines this election season
President Biden spent a portion of his speech explaining how this year's elections are echoing and amplifying 2020's false narrative of election fraud.
One place that narrative is impacting the elections is state legislative races.
NPR's Laura Benshoffreports: "Democratically aligned super PACs and party-affiliated groups are spending tens of millions of dollars around the country to try to change the composition of state legislatures in key swing states, warning that fair elections could hang in the balance."
The Republican Party, meanwhile, is trying to defend its majorities and flip chambers where Democrats currently hold the balance of power.
"In either scenario, these legislative bodies have become increasingly powerful in setting policy around health care, voting, education and reproductive rights," Benshoff writes.
And, critically, they could have more power if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to give state legislatures power over federal elections — it's hearing a case about it this fall.
You can read Benshoff's full story here.
Voters are already being intimidated this election season
During his address Wednesday night, President Biden said that every vote should count and that intimidation and violence have no place in American politics.
Having said that, there have already been cases of voter intimidation in the midterm elections. Election officials in Arizona reported incidents where voters were filmed and photographed while putting their ballots into drop boxes, and in one case, the voters were followed by a car out of a parking lot.
🧵On Friday, 2 armed individuals dressed in tactical gear were onsite at our Mesa ballot drop box. After @mcsoaz arrived, the individuals left. @MaricopaCounty Chairman Gates & @RecordersOffice Recorder Richer said they condemn these actions. Read more: https://t.co/iHFPCxeLFT pic.twitter.com/o8JCudzVCj— Maricopa County Elections Department (@MaricopaVote) October 23, 2022
In another case, two armed individuals wearing tactical gear were hanging around a drop box in Maricopa County.
It may take a while to know the full election results
President Biden tonight asked Americans to trust in the election process. This year, as in 2020, having trust also means having patience.
Here's a bit of an explanation from NPR's Ben Swasey, who covers voting and election administration:
"Recent years have seen a rise in mail voting, and states have different rules for when those mail ballots are due. States also have different procedures for when those ballots can be taken out of their envelopes to be processed and tallied. This can lengthen the count.
Wisconsin, for example, doesn't allow election officials to begin processing mail ballots until polls open on Election Day.
The vote count in Pennsylvania should be faster this year than in 2020, considering there will likely be fewer mail-in ballots. But those mail ballots will still take longer to count and will lead to the confusion of a “red mirage” or “blue shift,” where lots of mail-in ballots will be reported early, making Democrats look like they have the lead, but then in-person ballot results will come in, likely showing Republicans pulling ahead in a close race, and then the rest of the mail ballot results will trickle in later in the evening, because they take longer to tabulate, and will likely favor Democrats and shift things even more.
And those are just two states.
If that’s not enough, also keep in mind that election officials first report unofficial results. Certified results come days, if not weeks, later.
Legal challenges and recounts can also lengthen the time before a winner is determined. The battleground state of Arizona, for instance, has recently switched to automatic recounts for any contest that's separated by 0.5 percentage points or less."
Law enforcement warns of political violence ahead of elections
U.S. agencies are warning politicians, election officials, religious minorities and others to be on alert for potential violent attacks.
The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the U.S. Capitol Police issued a bulletin last week — the same day Paul Pelosi was attacked — warning that other attacks could happen around Election Day.
Potential attacks would likely come from disgruntled extremists who hope to impact the elections, the bulletin said.
President Biden last week called on politicians from both sides of the aisle to speak up against political violence. He also tied the increase in threats of violence to conspiracy theories and the false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
"What makes us think that one party can talk about stolen elections, COVID being a hoax, it's all a bunch of lies — and it not affect people who may not be so well-balanced?" Biden said. "What makes us think that it's not going to corrode the political climate?"
Republican reactions to Biden's address about democracy under threat
Republicans accused President Biden of trying to divide the country after he told Americans that democracy was on the ballot this November.
Republican members of Congress fired back at Biden after he encouraged voters not to elect election deniers and extremist candidates.
"President Biden is trying to divide and deflect at a time when America needs to unite—because he can’t talk about his policies that have driven up the cost of living," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted. "The American people aren’t buying it."
The official Twitter account of the House Republicans echoed similar thoughts. "President Biden is trying to distract from the countless crises under his watch," the House Republicans' account tweeted.
The Senate Republicans' Twitter account shared an ominous meme that attributed an increase in murders, carjackings and robberies to the Biden administration.
Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker went one step further on Twitter, calling his Democratic opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, and Biden the threat.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump took to his social media platform Truth Social once Biden's speech ended, posting endorsements for House candidates in Indiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Missouri.
During his speech, Biden encouraged Americans to stand up against extremism and political violence, pointing to Trump's claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen as the reason the nation is divided.
"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," Biden said. "That is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it is un-American."
Here's what Biden said in his last speech about democracy under attack
It has been two months since President Biden first told the country that he believes some Republicans are a threat to democracy. Tonight's speech echoed his words then.
"Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal," he said on Sept. 1. "Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic."
Biden warned that fringe Republicans with extremist views tied to conspiracy theories are trying to pull strings in state after state to give election deniers decision-making powers.
He also specified that he wasn't talking about the majority of Republicans and that they too have to fight for American democracy.
The RNC calls Biden's speech 'divisive'
The Republican National Committee issued a brief statement ahead of Biden's speech, calling it his "latest divisive speech" in the subject line of the email.
"Desperate and dishonest," wrote Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
"Joe Biden promised unity but has instead demonized and smeared Americans, while making life more expensive for all. While Republicans remain focused on the issues that matter most to voters, Biden and Democrats are flailing in the final days because they have lost touch with the concerns of families struggling to get by."
Biden said this election is about the 'soul of America'
President Biden wrapped up his speech by saying the nation is in a struggle for "the soul of America itself."
"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," Biden said.
"That is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it is un-American."
The president asked Americans to confront misinformation and political violence now and to trust the election process. Votes should not be seen as partisan tools, accepted when wanted and tossed out when it's not beneficial.
"Violence and intimidation have no place in America," he said.
Biden concluded his speech without taking questions.
President Biden calls on voters to confront threats against democracy
During his speech Wednesday evening, President Biden said intimidation and violence against politicians and election officials are a result of "lies repeated over and over," which have to be confronted by truth.
He called on Americans from all parties and backgrounds to vote to confront the threats against democracy.
"We the people must decide to have free and fair elections, and every vote counts," Biden said.
He said that it's up to the people to ensure the rule of law prevails and that former President Donald Trump's inability to accept his election loss in 2020 is the root of the problem.
Biden begins his speech by addressing attack on Paul Pelosi
President Biden began his speech by recounting the attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pausing on the fact that the accused attacker was shouting the words, "Where is Nancy?" as he entered the house, according to police reports.
"Those were the very same words used by the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6th," Biden said to transition into the bigger picture. "It was an enraged mob that'd been whipped up into a frenzy by 'the big lie.'"
Biden blamed the 2021 attack on the Capitol — and continuing threats to democracy — firmly on former President Donald Trump.
Biden said the "big lie" that Trump started has "fueled the dangerous rise of voter intimidation over the last few years," as well as threats to poll workers.
Protesters chant 'Ashli Babbitt' as Biden's motorcade arrives
White House reporters traveling in the motorcade said that as President Biden pulled into Union Station, a handful of women stood near the eastern entrance holding a sign and chanting, "Ashli Babbitt."
Babbitt was one of many hundreds of rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, while attempting to stop lawmakers from carrying out their constitutional duty to certify the Electoral College results in favor of Biden.
Babbitt can be seen in footage from that day carrying a backpack and trying to breach a barricaded door. When Babbitt attempted to climb through a smashed door into the Speaker's Lobby, she was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer.
Many on the far right have characterized Babbitt as a martyr.
You can read more about her here.
Is this just a political play?
It's not every day that a sitting U.S. president gives a speech about the state of democracy — and threats of violence.
Historically, the party out of power has picked up more than 20 House seats in a president's first midterm, and that figure is even higher when that president has a low approval rating. Biden's has long been hovering below 50%.
So is this all just a political stunt?
There are a few things to consider here:
- This speech is being hosted by the Democratic National Committee, not the White House. The DNC is the principal fundraising arm of the Democratic Party.
- It's happening at Union Station, which is just a few blocks away from the Capitol but is not the Capitol building itself. White House senior adviser Anita Dunn said the Capitol Hill setting is important because it was the site of violence on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the area. And the setting also helps distance Biden from his seat of power — he's speaking in a political capacity.
But then there's also this:
- The speech comes on the heels of a brutal attack on Paul Pelosi — some tangible proof that months of worries about domestic extremism may well be warranted.
- A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that Republicans are OK with voting for election deniers as long as they're aligned on other issues, signaling that issues of democracy are far less likely to move an election needle than traditional pocketbook issues such as inflation and the economy. Biden could choose other topics for what's shaping up to be his grand finale before the midterm elections.
Conspiracies theories and Paul Pelosi's attacker
Not long after law enforcement identified Paul Pelosi's accused attacker, David DePape, journalists began investigating posts that appeared to be written by him that embrace far-right conspiracy theories and views.
DePape's daughter told The Los Angeles Times that her father wrote the posts, which included antisemitic remarks, false claims about the 2020 presidential election and COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories.
Conservative media outlets and high-profile personalities quickly responded by casting doubt that an individual who shared their beliefs had committed the attack.
The latest on the attack on Paul Pelosi
President Biden's speech is very likely to touch on Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was attacked in their San Francisco home last Friday.
David Wayne DePape, 42, faces a multitude of charges in connection with accusations that he attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer and planned to kidnap Nancy Pelosi, the Justice Department said. Those charges could lead to 50 years in prison.
U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement Wednesday that the cameras in the home were not actively monitored while the House speaker was in Washington, D.C.
The Capitol Police also said they intend to “fast-track” efforts already underway to better protect politicians outside the Capitol.
Here's what we expect Biden will talk about
President Biden's address from Union Station in Washington, D.C., will touch on a series of topics concerning threats to democracy.
Two of the president's aides said he will talk about the following:
- the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and other cases of political violence, including last week's attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband
- how the counting of midterm election ballots will take several days
Anita Dunn, Biden’s senior adviser, said at an Axios event that the president believes that putting a name to the issues is imperative.
“You have to be very straight with the American people — as he likes to say, from the shoulder," Dunn said.
"And he 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 we really can unite behind this idea, this fundamental value of democracy.”
How to watch tonight's speech
It was just today that President Biden announced he'd deliver a speech on democracy from the Columbus Club at Union Station, which is adjacent to the Capitol.
The speech, which is a Democratic National Committee event, will kick off at 7 p.m. ET.
If you're planning to stream the speech online, here are a few places where you can watch it: