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In a prime-time speech in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, President Joe Biden called on Americans to "stop the assault on American democracy" by Republicans who deny the results of the 2020 election.
In an unusual pattern for his presidency, Biden mentioned the name of his predecessor, Donald Trump, several times in the speech, warning that Trump’s brand of politics was dangerous for the country.
"Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic," Biden said Sept. 1. He cautioned, however, that not all Republicans embrace Trump’s MAGA movement and "extreme ideology."
The term "MAGA Republican" can mean different things to different people. (MAGA stands for "make America great again," Trump’s 2016 election catchphrase.)
The White House did not immediately respond to PolitiFact when we asked how they define a "MAGA Republican." But in remarks the morning after the speech, Biden told reporters, "I don't consider any Trump supporter to be a threat to the country. I do think anyone who calls for the use of violence, fails to condemn violence when it's used, refuses to acknowledge an election has been won, insists upon changing the way in which we rule and count votes — that is a threat to democracy."
The stated goal of Biden’s speech, which came about two months before the midterm elections, was to encourage Americans to protect democracy and to do their civic duty by voting.
"While the threat to American democracy is real, I want to say as clearly as we can: We are not powerless in the face of these threats," Biden said in the speech. "We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy."
Our review of Biden’s speech revealed two statements in need of more context.
In poll after poll, about 70% of Republicans say they don’t think Biden is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. Trump has repeatedly and baselessly claimed that he won the 2020 presidency although multiple recounts and audits have upheld a win for Biden.
Multiple Republicans who deny that Biden won have prevailed in Republican primaries or nominating contests. If these candidates for secretary of state, governor or other statewide office win in November, they could have the power to thwart free and fair elections.
These candidates include an "America First" coalition of candidates in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and other battlegrounds headed up by Jim Marchant, a Republican running for secretary of state in Nevada. Marchant said he would not have certified the election for Biden.
These candidates have also proposed eliminating early voting; wiping out existing voter registration lists; and getting rid of electronic voting machines.
A University of Virginia’s Center for Politics analysis found that of the country’s 10 competitive secretary of state races this year, a majority — six — feature a Republican nominee who has echoed Trump’s election denial assertions, including the nominees in such battleground states as Arizona, Nevada, and Michigan.
Biden’s statement about efforts to give "partisans and cronies" the power to undermine democracy appears to be a reference to state bills that could enable interference with election administration or results.
As an example, the White House pointed to an Arizona bill that would give the state Legislature the power to accept or reject election results, but the bill did not pass. One of the bill co-sponsors was state Rep. Mark Finchem, who is now running for secretary of state. He said that Arizona floods the state with "fake ballots," a claim we rated Pants on Fire.
However, Arizona did pass legislation that took the authority for defending election-related lawsuits away from the secretary of state, currently a Democrat who’s also running for governor, and gave it to the attorney general, who is now a Republican. This change could enable the overturning of results by a court.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano, would have the power to appoint the top elections official if he wins. As a state senator in 2020, he introduced a resolution that sought to withdraw certification of Biden’s win and having the GOP-controlled Legislature appoint the presidential electors instead. The Legislature’s top Republicans said they would not go along with it.
In Wisconsin, Tim Michels, the Republican running for governor, has said that decertifying the 2020 election results is not a priority, although "everything will be on the table." He has not said whether he would consider not certifying the results of the next presidential election, arguing that the question is too speculative. Michels has advocated for abolishing the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which administers elections.
The States United Democracy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, has been tracking legislation nationwide that would allow state legislatures to interfere with elections, by usurping control over election results, requiring partisan "audits" of results or creating burdens for election officials such as requiring them to count all ballots by hand.
A few states have considered bills that would give legislators the power to reject election results, but none has passed in 2022, although a few bills remain pending in Pennsylvania.
"These proposals have a unifying theme: they would make it far easier for hyperpartisan actors to stir up the doubt, chaos, and confusion that could be used as a pretext for election subversion," states the report, which was co-written with Law Forward and Protect Democracy.
This is speculative.
In theory, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the abortion decision Roe v. Wade could put at risk the national guarantees of same-sex marriage and contraception, which rest to a significant degree on the same privacy protections that supported abortion under Roe.
In Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that established a right for married couples to use contraception, the court found that the 14th Amendment’s due process clause protects the right to privacy. (Single people were granted the right to contraception in a separate case in 1972.) Similar legal logic produced the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage nationally.
Polling shows these rights are popular. Support for same-sex marriage was 68% nationally, according to a 2021 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. And in a YouGov America/The Economist survey taken after a draft opinion to overturn Roe was leaked, 61% of respondents who described themselves as anti-abortion said that birth control should be made free and widely available if abortion was outlawed. For abortion-rights supporters, the figure was 91%.
If cases challenging the right to contraception or same-sex marriage were to come before the Supreme Court, and if the justices followed the logic that produced Roe’s overturning this year, these two rights could be at risk.
If Obergefell were overturned, prior state-level bans would make same-sex marriage illegal in at least 25 states and it would likely become illegal in seven others, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
The fears among supporters of same-sex marriage and contraception stem largely from the writings of Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote a concurring opinion when Roe was overturned that said the court "should reconsider" the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed the national right to same-sex marriage. Thomas called it one of the court’s "demonstrably erroneous decisions."
But Thomas was the only member of the conservative majority that overturned Roe who went that far.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, was careful to note that the majority supporting the overturning of Roe does not have other rulings in its sights. The opinion asserted that same-sex marriage is different from abortion because it "does not destroy a ‘potential life.’"
"To ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right," Alito wrote. "Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion."
In a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh echoed Alito’s point, writing, "I emphasize what the court today states: Overruling Roe does not mean the overruling of those precedents, and does not threaten or cast doubt on those precedents."
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled House has passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which would require that all states honor marriages, including same-sex marriages, that were legally valid in the states in which they were granted. Some Senate Republicans have expressed interest in backing such a law. Although the number of Senate supporters has not yet reached the 60 required to overcome an expected filibuster, analysts say that could happen before year’s end.
PolitiFact staff writer Madison Czopek contributed to this article.
RELATED: All of our fact-checks of Biden
White House, Speech by President Joe Biden about democracy, Sept. 1, 2022
New York Times, In 4 Swing States, G.O.P. Election Deniers Could Oversee Voting, Aug. 3, 2022
WITF, How Doug Mastriano could turn election lies into action, if elected governor, May 18, 2022
States United Democracy Center, A Democracy Crisis In The Making: August 2022 Edition
Sabato’s Crystal Ball, "Secretary of State Races: Election Deniers Carry GOP Banner in Several Key States," August 11, 2022
The Hill, "Most Americans support free, widely available birth control if abortion is banned: poll," May 12, 2022
PolitiFact, "What states would ban same-sex marriage if the Supreme Court overturned Obergefell?" July 20, 2022
PolitiFact, Are state legislators really seeking power to overrule the voters? July 14, 2021
PolitiFact, "A GOP talking point suggests birth control is not at risk. Evidence suggests otherwise," August 4, 2022
Email interview, Andrew Bates, White House spokesperson, Sept. 2, 2022
Email interview, Kerrin Garripoli, States United Democracy Center spokesperson, Sept. 2, 2022