South Court Auditorium
12:14 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, everyone.
MS. SCHIFELING: Welcome, Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi. Thank you, Dierdre. I am very much looking forward to our conversation today, and I wanted to bring all of you who have been fighting this fight for generations — I wanted to bring you together this day, after the vote last night, so I can hear from you.
So I’m going to share with you a couple of my thoughts, but I really do want to hear from you. I do believe that one of the important roles that I can play and that our administration can play is to support all the work you have done historically and recently around convening folks, lifting up the voice of the people, and — and thinking about what is our strategy to do what I think, collectively, is our goal, which is to ensure that all people in our country have an unfettered access to the ballot box, understanding that our democracy will be as strong as the ability of the people to participate, and any attempts to weaken or lessen the participation of the people in their democracy will result in a weaker nation.
So that’s how I think about this issue overall. And — and I asked you to join with this discussion and join me so we could share our strategy moving forward.
So last night, you all know, we got every Senate Democrat to unite. And that was a feat. And I think we should all consider that an accomplishment, which is as diverse and varied, geographically and in many other ways, as is the Democratic Caucus. There was unity in recognizing the importance of moving forward to ensure that the American people have full access to the ballot box.
So — so it was no small feat to get folks to show that kind of support for the For the People Act. As you may know, I was in the Senate chamber, as the President of the Senate. I was not there to break a tie because, of course, there was not a tie to be broke. But I was there as just an extension of the importance of the conversation — it was not a debate, as we know — but the conversation, to make clear that our administration takes the issue very seriously, we are paying close attention, and we will be actively involved in the issue.
It is clear to me that there are certain truths — probably two that remain, and there are others — that remain after last night’s vote. One is that the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. I don’t need to tell you all that. It is fundamental.
And when we look, in particular, at the challenges, at the attempts to attack our democracy — and, most recently, one of the most vivid, outrageous examples being January 6th — we know that our democracy is under attack in many ways, and that we must preserve the promises of a democracy, including appreciating that the right to vote is fundamental to that democracy. That truth remains.
The second truth, again, is that our democracy has been under attack. And we know that when we look at, in 2021 — I’m looking at — my most recent count is 389 anti-voter bills have been introduced in 48 states. I don’t need to tell you more than 20 laws have been enacted in — I believe it’s 14 states.
And so when I think about the charge in front of us and the work in front of us, it is, as it relates to the state issue, not only what we can do to push back against the active attempts that are at play right now through state legislatures to encumber and to suppress the vote.
But we must also think about — as it relates to the states — how we are going to approach the issue in those states that have recently passed their laws and what that will mean in terms of an added burden on voters to figure out how to have their voice heard through the ballot box and how to navigate systems that, in some cases have — through those recent laws — been intended to make it complicated and, certainly, difficult for voters to express their voice through the ballot box.
I think that there may be some who have been intent on attacking voters’ rights who will perhaps think that there’s some wind in their sails because of what happened last night, in terms of the vote. And, again, I think it’s important– at least for those of us who know how Senate processes are supposed to work — to point out that opponents of what we are trying to do — in terms of strengthen and protect voting rights — didn’t even have the courage to debate the issues last night.
Yes, there was a back-and-forth, but it was not a debate — not by Senate standards. So that’s an important thing for us to remember and — and to highlight, in terms of the failure to have the courage to actually debate — if you believe your position is in the best interests of your nation — the kinds of efforts that have been made to suppress the vote. But there was no such debate.
So, going to today, the fact is: Our fight does not look very different, I think, than it did yesterday. There are certain things that remain a fact and remain true, which is that we must continue to work on passing federal legislation — the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — to ensure that we have national standards that are in place to protect every American’s right to vote.
I said last night, when I was talking to the press: This is not a Democrats issue or a Republicans issue; this is an American issue. And so federal legislation, I think, is going to be critically important to support that — that very basic principle, again, about our democracy.
There’s the piece that is about state legislation — that has not changed since last night. Both, again, in terms of these bills — I think one in three state legislatures are still in session — and what that is going to require and mean in terms of reminding and uplifting the voices so that the public understands what is happening in their state legislatures.
More than 31 bills have passed at least one chamber. So, again, just further empirical evidence of the seriousness of this, the imminence of it, and the fact that this is in — this is in active play.
And again, it’s about what we can do to uplift all the voices around stopping legislation that is in process, but also addressing what must happen in those states where legislation has already passed to empower voters and to navigate a system that has been tampered with.
There is the voter registration and engagement piece. And that really does connect, in many ways, to that last point about the states that have already passed legislation.
We, I believe, must recommit ourselves to all of the best work that has happened in the past around voter registration and engagement and, obviously, to the extent necessary, upgrade it, knowing that we were so successful last time and it was obviously noticed. And so, we’re going to need to do what we’ve done before but with these added pressures on our systems because of the legislation that is being passed.
So I’d like to hear from you all: How are you thinking about the work that’s happening on the ground? And you, as leaders: How are you thinking about that piece as well?
And then the final piece I’ll mention — again, you all have been doing it forever — is the coalition-building piece. There are some who want to say this is, you know, Team A versus Team B, in terms of the voting rights issue.
Well, we all know that that’s a smokescreen. That’s a way of trying to suggest that, “Oh, there’s just two teams fighting,” instead of the real issue, which is: This is against all Americans what they are doing, and it is against fundamental — fundamental issues about our democracy.
And so, I mentioned that to say that you all, by the very nature of your life’s work and your commitment and the work of your organizations, have always been engaged in understanding one of our greatest strengths is coalition building. And let us agree that this is one of those moments that we can renew that approach.
And I’m thinking about all of the organizations, all of the groups. You know, I recently convened a group of labor leaders. We know that there are so many people in — among Americans with disabilities, seniors, people in — rural folks, our Native communities, our Black and brown communities, our Asian community. There’s so much potential here for renewing our commitment to coalition building around this issue.
And so, I’d like to explore, with — with all of you, the ways that our administration can support the work that you’re doing in that regard.
And just my final points really is: I want you to know the President and I are undeterred and we are committed to this. And it is not an extreme statement to say that history will show this was an inflection point. And either it was the beginning of a clear path to deteriorate and weaken our democracy, or this was a moment where we — through creativity, through hard work, and through sheer commitment — fought for the strength of our democracy, to the benefit of all people in our country.
So we are undeterred. You know, I don’t have to go through the history of voting rights with any of you. I often paraphrase an admonition from Coretta Scott King, which I’ll mention briefly now, because I think it is apt for this moment. And she famously said, “The fight for civil rights…” — which, of course, is the fight for justice and equality and all of the principles behind the need to make sure everyone can vote — she said, “The fight for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation.”
And I think she had two points there. One, it is the very nature of this fight, specifically voting rights, that, whatever gains we make — we have learned this — will not be permanent. We saw what the court did in 2013. Whatever gains we make will not be permanent.
It’s the very nature of it. And therefore, I think her admonition is the second point: understanding it’s the nature of it. Do not be deterred. Do not be overwhelmed. Let’s not throw up our hands when it’s time to roll up our sleeves. It is the nature of it, and it is the nature of who we are to fight for these fundamental rights undeterred.
So, with that, I thank you all. And I look forward to beginning our discussion. And, Deirdre, I’m going to pass it to you so you can moderate our discussion.
And again, for everybody on this Zoom, we — many of us have been working together for years. And this is the first convening and the first time on this topic — but for many, many more conversations and the work we’ll do together in the coming days, weeks, and months.
So, Deidre, I’ll pass it over to you.
(The listening session commences.)
12:26 P.M. EDT