Biden Says Democracy at Risk in Pre-Midterm Address

US President Joe Biden warned American democracy was at “risk” in an address in Washington on Wednesday night, November 2, ahead of next week’s midterm elections.

In his 20 minute speech, the president condemned political violence and election denialism, pointing to last week’s attack on US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, at their San Francisco home.

Biden said Americans “must vote knowing what’s at stake”, adding that the upcoming elections were not only about policy, “but institutions that have held us together as we’ve sought a more perfect union are also at stake.”

“We must vote knowing who we have been, what we’re at risk of becoming,” he said.

Biden said denying the outcome of elections was “damaging” and “corrosive”, adding that acknowledging election results was fundamental to democracy.

“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," he said, adding that it was "the path to chaos in America.”

“It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And, it is un-American," Biden said. Credit: Democratic National Committee via Storyful

Video transcript

JOE BIDEN: Good evening, everyone.

- Good evening.

JOE BIDEN: Just a few days ago, a little before 2:30 AM in the morning, a man smashed the back windows and broke into the home of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third highest ranking official in America. He carried in his backpack zip ties, duct tape, rope, and a hammer. As he told the police, he had come looking for Nancy Pelosi to take her hostage, to interrogate her, to threaten to break her kneecaps. But she wasn't there.

Her husband, my friend Paul Pelosi, was home alone. The assailant tried to take Paul hostage. He woke him up. He wanted to tie him up. The assailant ended up using a hammer to smash Paul's skull. Thankfully, by the grace of God, Paul survived. All this happened after the assault. And just-- I find it so hard to even say-- it's hard to even say.

After the assailant entered the home, asking where's Nancy, where's Nancy-- those are the very same words used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January the 6th, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials, and erected gallows to hang the former Vice President, Mike Pence.

It was an enraged mob that had been whipped up into a frenzy by a President repeating over and over again the big lie, that the election of 2020 had been stolen. It's a lie that fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years. Even before January the 6th, we saw election officials and election workers in a number of states subject to menacing calls, physical threats, even threats to their very lives.

In Georgia, for example, the Republican Secretary of State and his family were subjected to death threats because he refused to break the law and give in to the defeated president's demand-- just find him 11,780 votes. Just find me 11,780 votes. Election workers like Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, were harassed and threatened, just because they had the courage to do their job and stand up for the truth, to stand up for our democracy.

This institution, this intimidation, this violence against Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisan officials just doing their jobs are the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over to generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol, and even violence. In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it.

My fellow Americans, we're facing a defining moment, an inflection point. We must, with one overwhelming, unified voice, speak as a country, and say there's no place-- no place-- for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it's directed at Democrats or Republicans-- no place, period, no place, ever. I speak today near Capitol Hill, near the US Capitol, the citadel of our democracy.

I know there's a lot at stake in these midterm elections, from our economy the safety of our streets, to our personal freedoms, the future of health care, Social Security, Medicare-- it's all important. But we'll have our differences. We'll have our differences of opinion. And that's what it's supposed to be. But there's something else at stake, democracy itself. I'm not the only one who sees it.

Recent polls have shown that overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year and they're deeply concerned about it. So today, I appeal to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance. We must vote knowing what's at stake, and not just the policy of the moment.

But institutions that have held us together as we sought a more perfect union are also at stake. We must vote knowing who we have been, what we're at risk of becoming. Look, my fellow Americans, the old expression, freedom is not free, it requires constant vigilance. From the very beginning, nothing has been guaranteed about democracy in America. Every generation has had to defend it, protect it, preserve it, choose it.

But that's what democracy is. It's a choice, a decision of the people, by the people, and for the people. The issue couldn't be clearer in my view. We the people must decide whether we will have fair and free elections, and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we're going to sustain a republic where reality is accepted, the law is obeyed, and your vote is truly sacred.

We the people must decide whether the rule of law will prevail or whether we will allow the dark forces that thirst for power put ahead of the principles that we've-- long guided us. You know, American democracy is under attack because the defeated former President of the United States refuses to accept the results of the 2020 election. If you refuse to accept the will of the people-- he refuses to accept the fact that he lost.

He has abused his power and put the loyalty to himself before loyalty to the Constitution. And he's made a big lie an article of faith in the MAGA Republican Party, a minority of that party. The great irony about the 2020 election is that it's the most attacked election in our history. And yet-- and yet, there's no election in our history that we can be more certain of its results. Every legal challenge that could have been brought was brought.

Every recount that could have been undertaken was undertaken. Every recount confirmed the results. Wherever fact or evidence have been demanded, the big lie has been proven to be just that, a big lie, every single time. Yet now, extreme MAGA Republicans aim to question not only the legitimacy of past elections, but elections being held now and into the future.

The extreme MAGA element of the Republican Party, which is a minority of that party, as I said earlier-- but as this driving force-- is trying to succeed where they failed in 2020, to suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself. That means denying your right to vote and deciding whether your vote even counts. Instead of waiting until an election is over, they're starting well before it. They're starting now. They've emboldened violence and intimidation of voters and election officials.

It's estimated that there are more than 300 election deniers on the ballot all across America this year. We can't ignore the impact this is having on our country. It's damaging, it's corrosive, and it's destructive. And I want to be very clear. This is not about me. It's about all of us. It's about what makes America America. It's about the durability of our democracy, for democracies are more than a form of government.

They're a way of being, a way of seeing the world, the way that defines who we are, what we believe, why we do what we do. Democracy is simply that fundamental. We must in this moment dig deep within ourselves and recognize that we can't take democracy for granted any longer. With democracy on the ballot, we have to remember these first principles-- democracy means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs or the moneyed, but the rule of the people.

Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one-- one person, one interest, one ideology, one party. To state the obvious, the lives of billions of people from antiquity till now have been shaped by the battle between these competing forces, between the aspirations of the many and the greed and power of the few, between the people's right for self-determination and the self-seeking autocrat, between the dreams of a democracy and the appetites of an autocracy.

What we're doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure. It, in my view, is the biggest of questions, whether the American system that prizes the individual, bends toward justice, and depends on the rule of law-- whether that system will prevail. This is a struggle we're now in, a struggle for democracy, a struggle for decency and dignity, a struggle for prosperity and progress, a struggle for the very soul of America itself.

Make no mistake, democracy is on the ballot for all of us. We must remember that democracy is a covenant. We need to start looking out for each other again, seeing ourselves as we the people, not as entrenched enemies. This is a choice. We can make. Disunion and chaos are not inevitable. There's been anger before in America. There's been division before in America. But we've never given up on the American experiment. We can't do that now.

The remarkable thing about American democracy is this-- just enough of us, on just enough occasions, have chosen not to dismantle democracy but to preserve democracy. We must choose that path again. Because democracy is on the ballot, we have to remember that even in our darkest moments, there are fundamental values and beliefs that unite us as Americans, and they must unite us now.

What are they? Well, I think first, we believe the vote in America is sacred, to be honored, not denied, respected, not dismissed, counted, not ignored. A vote is not a partisan tool to be counted when it helps your candidates and tossed aside when it doesn't. Second, we must with an overwhelming voice stand against political violence and voter intimidation, period-- stand up and speak against it.

We don't settle our differences, America, with a riot, a mob, or a bullet, or a hammer. We settle them peaceably the ballot box. We have to be honest with ourselves, though. We have to face this problem. We can't turn away from it. We can't pretend it's just going to solve itself. There's an alarming rise in the number of our people in this country condoning political violence, or simply remaining silenced, because silence is complicity.

The disturbing rise of voter intimidation, the pernicious tendency to excuse political violence, or at least-- at least trying to explain it away, we can't allow this sentiment to grow. We must confront it head on, now. It has to stop now. I believe the voices excusing or calling for violence and intimidation are a distinct minority in America, but they're loud and they are determined.

We have to be more determined, all of us who reject political violence and voter intimidation-- and I believe that's the overwhelming majority of the American people, all of us must unite to make it absolutely clear that violence and intimidation have no place in America. And third, we believe in democracy. That's who we are as Americans. I know it isn't easy. Democracy is imperfect. It always has been. We are all called to defend it now-- now.

History and common sense tell us that liberty, opportunity, and justice thrive in a democracy, not in an autocracy. At our best, America is not a zero sum society, where for you to succeed, someone else has to fail. I promise America is big enough-- it's big enough for everyone to succeed, every generation opening the door of opportunity just a little bit wider, every generation, including those who have been excluded before.

We believe we should leave no one behind because each one of us is a child of God. And every person, every person, is sacred-- if that's true, then every person's rights must be sacred as well. Individual dignity, individual worth, individual determination, that's America, that's democracy. And that's what we have to defend. Look, even as I speak here tonight, 27 million people have already cast their ballot in the midterm elections.

Millions more will cast their ballots in the final days leading up to November the 9th-- 8th, excuse me. And for the first time-- this is the first time since the national election of 2020. Once again, we're seeing record turnout all over the country. And that's good. We want Americans to vote. We want every American's voice to be heard. Now, we have to move the process forward. We know that more and more ballots are cast in early voting or by mail in America.

And we know that many states don't start counting those ballots until after the polls close on November 8. That means in some cases, we won't know the winner of the election for a few days-- until a few days after the election. It takes time to count all legitimate ballots in a legal and orderly manner. It's always been important for citizens in a democracy to be informed and engaged.

Now, it's important for citizens to be patient as well. That's how it's supposed to work. This is also the first election since the events of January 6, when the armed, angry mob stormed the US Capitol. I wish I could say the assault on democracy that ended that day, but I cannot. As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America, for governor, Congress, attorney general, Secretary of State, who won't commit-- they will not commit to accepting the results of elections that they're running in.

This is a path to chaos in America. It's unprecedented, it's unlawful, and it's un-American. I've said before, you can't love your country only when you win. This is no ordinary year. So we're asking you to think long and hard about the moment we're in. In a typical year, we're often not faced with questions of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk. But this year, we are.

This year, I hope you'll make the future of our democracy an important part of your decision to vote, and how you vote. I hope you'll ask a simple question of each candidate you might vote for-- will that person accept the legitimate will of the American people, or the people voting in his district or her district? Will that person accept the outcome of the election, win or lose? The answer to that question is vital. And in my opinion, it should be decisive.

On the answer to that question hangs the future of the country we love so much, and the fate of the democracy that has made so much possible for us. Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project in democracy. Because we've enjoyed our freedoms for so long, it's easy to think they'll always be with us, no matter what. . But that isn't true today.

In our bones, we know democracy is at risk. But we also know this. It's within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy. And I believe we will. I think I know this country. I know we will. You have the power. It's your choice. It's your decision. The fate of the nation, and the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands and your heart and your ballot.

My fellow Americans, we'll meet this moment. We just need to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. There's nothing, nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together. May God bless you all. May God protect our troops. May God bless those standing guard over our democracy. Thank you and godspeed.