‘Inaction is not an option’: Biden calls fight against autocracy ‘the challenge of our time’ at first democracy summit

Biden says his administration is still pushing for voting rights legislation despite Senate’s filibuster

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Thursday 09 December 2021 16:04
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<p>President Joe Biden speaks from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, for the opening of the Democracy Summit. The two-day virtual summit is billed as an opportunity for leaders and civil society experts from some 110 countries to collaborate on fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)</p>

President Joe Biden speaks from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, for the opening of the Democracy Summit. The two-day virtual summit is billed as an opportunity for leaders and civil society experts from some 110 countries to collaborate on fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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President Joe Biden has called on like-minded world leaders to take on the task of revitalising democracies to serve as a bulwark against autocrats seeking to “advance their own power” across the globe.

Speaking to a virtual gathering of roughly 80 heads of state and government as well as representatives from various pro-democracy NGOs at the US-convened “summit for democracy” on Thursday, Mr Biden warned that representative government “doesn’t happen by accident” and as an “urgent matter” must be actively renewed after years of democratic backsliding.

He noted that the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance recently said in a report that “half of all democracies have experienced a decline in at least one aspect of their democracy over the last 10 years”, and added that the United States was one of those declining democracies.

“These trends are being exacerbated by global challenges that are more complex than ever and which requires shared efforts to address these concerns. By outside pressure, autocrats … seek to advance their own power, export and expand their influence around the world and justify their repressive policies and practices as a more efficient way to address today’s challenges,” Mr Biden said.

“That’s how it’s sold — by voices that seek to fan the flames of social division and political polarisation, and perhaps … by increasing the dissatisfaction of people all around the world with democratic governments that they feel are failing to deliver for their needs,” he continued. “In my view, this is the defining challenge of our time”.

President Joe Biden speaks from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, for the opening of the Democracy Summit.The two-day virtual summit is billed as an opportunity for leaders and civil society experts from some 110 countries to collaborate on fighting corruption and promoting respect for human rights. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The president’s remarks at the pro-democracy confab come just over 11 months after a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in hopes of preventing certification of Mr Biden’s 2020 election victory, and as Mr Trump and his Republican allies are continuing a prolonged campaign to rewrite American voting laws to make it easier for partisans to throw out election results if they dislike the outcome.

Legislation that would reverse or outlaw many of the attacks Republicans have levied at voting rights since 2020 is currently stalled in congress due to the de facto 60-vote threshold on most legislation imposed by the Senate’s filibuster rules. But Mr Biden said his administration would continue to push for two bills he called “critical”.

“My administration is going to keep fighting to pass two critical pieces of legislation that will shore up the very foundation of American democracy, the sacred right of every person to make their voice heard through free, fair and secure elections. We need to enact what we call the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to prevent voting discrimination, provide baselines for accessing the ballot box, and ensure the will of the voters is upheld,” he said.

“We should be making it easy for people to vote, not harder, and that’s going to remain a priority for my administration until we get it done,” he added. “Inaction is not an option.”

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