With just six days to go until the midterm elections, President Joe Biden spoke bluntly about threats to democracy, and decried political violence and intimidation. He cited former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” — the repeated lie, told over and over, that the 2020 presidential election had been “stolen” — for the rise in political violence, including the assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband.
“In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it,” Biden said. “We must, with one overwhelming unified voice, speak as a country and say that there’s no place — no place! — For voter intimidation or political violence in America.”
Biden spoke in very blunt terms about the attack on Paul Pelosi, comparing the alleged assailant saying "Where's Nancy? Where's Nancy?" to similar rhetoric used by rioters at the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
"Those are the very same words used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors," he said.
"We must with an overwhelming voice stand against political violence and voter intimidation, period," Biden saidsaid. "Stand up and speak against it."
"We don't settle our differences in America with a riot, a mob, or a bullet or a hammer," he added. "We settle them peacefully at the ballot box."
The president made the case that former President Donald Trump's baseless claims about a stolen election "fueled the dangerous rise of political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years."
"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 at Union Station's Columbus Club, in the shadow of the Capitol. "That is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented, it’s unlawful, and it is un-American."
The president urged voters heading to the ballot box between now and Election Day to "think long and hard about the moment we are in.”
"Make no mistake, democracy is on the ballot for all of us," the president said. "We must remember that democracy is a covenant. We need to start looking out for each other again."
"Democracy is more than a form of government," Biden said. "It’s a way of being. A way of seeing the world. A way that defines who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do. Democracy is simply that fundamental."
"What we're doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure," the president said. "In my view, its the biggest of questions."
The speech came as at least 28 million Americans have already cast their ballots in the midterms – which will determine control of Congress for the remaining two years of Biden's first term in office – per the U.S. Elections Project, and just days after the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The attacker, Biden said, broke into the Pelosi home with the intent of taking Speaker Pelosi hostage, and threaten to torture her. Instead, Paul Pelosi was assaulted, left with a fractured skull and serious injuries to his arms and hands.
American democracy, Biden said, is under attack in large part because Trump, and his supporters, have continually refused to accept the results of the 2020 election.
“Every challenge that could have been brought was brought. Every recount that could have been undertaken was undertaken. Every recount confirmed the results,” Biden said. “The Big Lie has been proven to be just that: a big lie, every single time.”
More than 300 people who have questioned election results are running for office around the country, according to The Brookings Institution. Among those, there are a great many running for offices in state and federal contests who have stated that they will refuse to accept election results in their contest should they lose.
“It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful and it’s unAmerican,” Biden said. “I’ve said before, you can’t love your country only when you win.”
Prior to the speech, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters the president will also focus on condemning political violence and the motivations behind it, similar to the motivations of the man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi.
"There are far more Americans of every background and belief who reject the dangerous path of political violence than accept it," she said.
"What we're seeing is an attack on our democracy. And the president has been very clear. We need to protect our democracy. We need to strengthen our democracy. And he feels it is important as the President of the United States to continue to speak to this," she added.
White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon said at an Axios event earlier Wednesday that Americans could expect Biden to highlight the fact that "democracy works to make sure every vote is counted" and note "that there is a lot at stake in terms of democracy, and everyone has a role in that."
At Wednesday's event, presidential adviser Anita Dunn said that the setting is an "appropriate place" to hold the event due to its proximity to the Capitol, the site of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
"Because on Jan. 6th we saw violence geared towards subverting democratic processes there," Dunn said. "It is an appropriate place to make these remarks tonight."
"The threat of political violence," Dunn continued, "is something that unites almost all Americans and something we can all be united against."
In September, the president delivered a fiery speech in Philadelphia, warning that "equality and democracy are under assault" and attacking what he called "MAGA Republicans," supporters of his predecessor.
Many Americans saw the speech as divisive, as Biden said the GOP was "dominated" by "MAGA" Republicans.
"MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards," Biden declared, adding: "Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology ... but there’s no question that the Republican party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the 'MAGA Republicans' and that is a threat to this country."
"America must choose to move forward or to move backwards,” the president said, before calling for Americans to “vote, vote, vote” to protect American Democracy.
For months, intelligence officials have warned of heightened threats ahead of the midterm elections, particularly threats to election workers at polling places.
Last week, ABC News reported on an internal memo circulated between the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Capitol Police and the National Counterterrorism Center warning that “election-related perceptions of fraud” will likely spur domestic violent extremists in the “plotting of violence and broader efforts to justify violence in the lead up to and following the 2022 midterm election cycle.”
"Potential targets of [domestic violent extremist] violence include candidates running for public office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial and religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents," the bulletin continued.
Much of the projected violence will likely come from lone actors, officials said, and those extremists are expected to target “states or counties where recounts, audits, or public election disputes occur," the memo read in part.
A number of key battleground states have tight races that may trigger recounts or whose ballot-counting might extend beyond election day.
Georgia is one state of particular concern to the intelligence community, as it was one of the main states that drew the ire of former President Donald Trump when election officials in the state refused to overturn the 2020 election results in his favor. Control of the now evenly-divided Senate, and likely Biden’s legislative priorities, hinge on states like Georgia, which in 2020 ultimately became the tipping point that gave Democrats the majority in the Senate.
The current race between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker remains neck-and-neck; if neither candidate gains more than 50% of overall votes, the race will go to a runoff held in December.
The Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force – created in the first year of Biden’s presidency – received reports of over 1,000 threats against election workers as of June, the most recent date for which data is available. While just 11% met the threshold to launch investigations, 58% of those “potentially criminal threats” occurred in states where Trump launched lawsuits questioning the results of the 2020 election, namely Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
Last week, the DOJ released information on its efforts to protect the right to vote in the leadup to the election and those planned for Election Day, which will include agents from the Civil Rights Division monitoring polling sites to ensure compliance with federal law.