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Fact Checking Joe Biden’s Speech on Voting Rights Legislation
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Fact Checking Joe Biden’s Speech on Voting Rights Legislation

The president made several misleading and inaccurate statements.

President Joe Biden appeared in Atlanta on Tuesday to give a speech on voting rights legislation. During the speech, the president made several misleading and inaccurate statements.

During his discussion of mail-in voting, Biden claimed that former President Donald Trump voted by mail in the 2020 election, despite his many criticisms of the practice. While Trump did cast a vote-by-mail ballot in the 2020 primary election, he voted in person in the general election, taking advantage of early voting.

Biden went on to claim that “the new Georgia law actually makes it illegal—think of this—I mean, it’s 2020, and now ’22, going into that election—it makes it illegal to bring your neighbors, your fellow voters food or water while they wait in line to vote.”

Biden is referring to SB 202, a voting bill signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in March 2021, which, among other things, prohibits outside groups or people from distributing anything that could be construed as a gift to voters—including food or water—within 150 feet of a polling place or 25 feet of a line to a polling place. Other states have similar provisions in place, with Montana banning anyone affiliated with a candidate from handing out food or drink to voters in line. In New York, nothing greater than $1 in value can be given to anyone at a polling place. While the language of Georgia’s law has been interpreted as being broader than these other states—it bans anyone from distributing food or water in line, not just people explicitly linked to campaigns—it’s still possible for election workers to provide water to voters. As noted by The Morning Dispatch at the time: “Polling places, however, can make self-service water receptacles available to voters waiting in line.”

Biden also made misleading claims about the filibuster. “You know, last year, if I’m not mistaken, the filibuster was used 154 times,” he said. 

Filibusters can come in several different forms, and, as such there is no real tally kept. Dr. Molly Reynolds—senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and author of Exceptions to the Rule: The Politics of Filibuster Limitations in the U.S. Senate—told The Dispatch Fact Check “There’s no perfect way to count filibusters, but I generally think that cloture motions filed is the best measure here.” Motions for cloture, if voted on and receiving the necessary 60 votes to pass, end debate on a subject, and thus end a filibuster. There have been 181 cloture motions, with 155 votes taken in the current session of Congress. Cloture has been invoked, ending debate, in 147 instances. All motions were filed by Democrats. Of those motions, 178 were filed in 2020, with 154 votes taken, of which 146 passed. While Biden may be referring to the number of votes taken, based on the number of motions filed the number of filibusters in 2020 is actually higher than he indicates. While this one-sided filibustering by Republicans would seem to back up Biden’s comment that “The filibuster is not used by Republicans to bring the Senate together but to pull it further apart,” it’s worth noting that this behavior from Republicans in the Senate is perfectly in keeping with minority party practices as of late. In the 2019-2020 session of Congress when Republicans held a majority in the Senate, all 328 cloture motions were filed by Republicans, with 298 votes taken. Cloture was invoked in 270 instances. 

“I did not live the struggle of Douglass, Tubman, King, Lewis, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, and countless others—known and unknown. I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who walked these grounds.  But I walked other grounds.  Because I’m so damn old, I was there as well. You think I’m kidding, man. It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested.” 

Biden has previously said several times he was arrested trying to see Nelson Mandela during apartheid in South Africa, a claim that has been debunked by fact checkers in the past. Biden has withdrawn the claim, saying he wasn’t arrested, but that “I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go.” The White House did not respond to a request for comment asking for clarity about if Biden was referring to this old claim or if he meant a different supposed arrest. The Washington Post fact checked previous claims Biden made about his civil rights movements activities, and found no record of Biden being arrested during a civil rights demonstration. The Post did find that he walked out of a restaurant in high school because a black football player was denied service and that he protested a segregated theater, but determined that most of Biden’s claims at activity during the civil rights movement are embellished or hyperbolic. 

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Alec Dent is a former culture editor and staff writer for The Dispatch.