In closing up the virtual Summit for Democracy Friday afternoon, President Joe Biden connected his voting agenda to the cause of democracy.

"Democracy is what makes it possible for hope and history to rhyme," Biden said, using a phrase coined by an Irish poet. "And today, hope and history lie in our hands. Let’s raise up our ambitions and rise up to meet the challenges together."


Interspersed with general messages about the promise of democracy, Biden waded into increasingly partisan domestic battles over elections. Specifically, Biden called for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Both bills have stalled in Congress, with Republicans calling the former a partisan power grab and the latter a radical federal takeover of elections.

Biden closed the summit in the White House's South Court Auditorium, with no conference attendees present, and he did not respond to shouted questions afterward. The address lasted less than 10 minutes.

Officials billed the event as an effort to counter democratic backsliding around the world. Yet, there were questions about whether every invitee qualified as democratic. Attendees included heads of states with authoritarian-leaning tendencies, such as Angola, Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Zambia, and others that show what the White House called “democratic recession,” including Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Poland.

The Biden administration did not invite China, Russia, Turkey, or Hungary, the only European Union member that failed to score an invite. Asked about the discrepancies and concerns that inviting authoritarian-leaning nations could appear to be a stamp of approval, a senior administration official said the Biden administration had been vocal “publicly and privately” about human rights violations in certain countries or in places where leaders had “taken steps to curtail democratic institutions.”

During the summit, the United States, Australia, Denmark, and Norway announced the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative, which officials said will help stem authoritarian governments' misuse of technology and promote a positive vision for technologies anchored by democratic values.

Biden also announced the establishment of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, which aims to build on the American government's work to boost democracy and human rights globally.

His closing speech also highlighted an alliance created before the summit between Panama, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic intended to strengthen democratic institutions in those neighboring countries, saying he hopes to see more of them.

However, any commitments from the meeting are nonbinding, potentially limiting what they can accomplish.


In his closing remarks, Biden noted that young people are especially concerned about the future of democracy, saying they have "a greater stake in our future than anyone else." He also focused on the importance of freedom for women, a topic Vice President Kamala Harris had touted the day before.

"We've shown a spotlight on the importance of protecting medical freedom and how advancing the status of women and girls is an advance for protecting the success of our democracy," he said.

As he had said during his opening remarks, Biden noted there would be "hard work" ahead to preserve and promote democracy around the world. But he expressed optimism about the challenge and called on both the public and private sectors to help make it happen.

"Autocracies can never extinguish the desire for liberty that flourishes around the world," Biden said. "With democracy, virtually anything is possible."