President Joe Biden's pitch to leaders at the inaugural Summit of Democracy ran late, symbolizing the advantage authoritarian governments claim to have in getting their trains to run on time, as he urged the democratic governments to compete with autocracies. He took no questions from the reporters present.
“American democracy is an ongoing struggle to live up to our highest ideals and to heal our division to recommit ourselves to the founding idea of our nation,” Biden told the 80 leaders who had assembled virtually for the meeting, including France, Canada, India, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Israel, and the Philippines.
Any commitments expected from the meeting will be nonbinding, limiting what they can accomplish — distinct from past similar gatherings, such as the one held at Camp David in 2000.
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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, Philippines, and Poland.
The Biden administration did not invite China; Russia; Turkey, a NATO ally; or Hungary, the only European Union member that failed to score an invite.
Officials billed the event as an effort to counter democratic backsliding around the world, drawing Cold War-style messaging comparisons as the Biden administration assembles its own Democratic-aspirant bloc.
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 his 14 minutes of opening remarks, Biden said vigilance was needed and, with it, a commitment of millions of U.S. dollars to protect democracy from backsliding at home and abroad.
“Renewing our democracy, strengthening our democratic institutions require constant effort,” Biden said.
Key pillars outlined by the White House include strengthening the U.S. government’s anti-corruption efforts, investing in election monitoring and open-internet initiatives abroad, boosting civil society activists, and supporting independent media.
For instance, the United States will commit some $9 million toward a legal fund for journalists facing defamation threats, as well as $3.5 million for security training, legal aid, “psychosocial care,” and more.
“Democracy’s hard, we all know that. It works best with consensus and cooperation,” he added, touting his recent bipartisan legislation as an example of consensus between Democrats and Republicans. “It’s up to us to prove that.”
Still, the president gave a nod to the challenges of Democrats seeking to pass partisan legislation, from halting negotiations over expansive social spending plans to efforts to reform voting laws. He added, “We don’t agree on everything.”
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Democrats’ campaign and voter reform bills have faced opposition, including from members of their own party. And pared-down attempts to counter red-state voter integrity laws have yet to capture a filibuster-proof majority.
This would require 60 votes in the Senate, where Democrats control only 50.
This failure to advance Democrats’ legislation on voting has renewed calls within the party to eliminate the filibuster.