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White House says Biden is not "casting doubt" on 2022 legitimacy

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki spent part of Thursday clarifying comments President Biden made in his marathon press conference Wednesday about whether future elections will be fair and legitimate. Psaki ultimately said "yes," the president is still confident elections this fall will be legitimate even without voting law changes. 

Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on Wednesday night thwarted Democrats' hopes to change Senate rules to pass two voting access bills. Manchin and Sinema, who have been clear they oppose changes to Senate rules, voted against changing the rules to allow the bills to pass by a simple majority rather than 60 votes. National Democrats are trying to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which would establish national election standards, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reinstate a core provision of the Voting Rights Act.

When the president was asked Wednesday if the upcoming election will be fairly conducted with legitimate results if Democrats' voting rights legislation doesn't pass, the president said it "all depends on whether or not we're able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election." 

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. Susan Walsh / AP

A subsequent reporter asked the president to clarify those remarks, saying, "A moment ago, you were asked whether or not you believed that we would have free and fair elections in 2022 if some of these state legislatures reformed their voting protocols. You said that it depends. Do you — do you think that they would in any way be illegitimate?"

The president responded, "I think it easily could be — be illegitimate," before giving a hypothetical example about former President Trump, prompting the journalist to reiterate that the question was related to the upcoming midterms, not 2020. 

"I'm not going to say it's going to be legit. It's — the increase and the prospect of being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these — these reforms passed," Mr. Biden responded. 

Commentary and criticism followed the press conference, given that the president appeared to suggest future elections might not be "legit." Psaki sought to clarify the president's words in a pair of Thursday morning tweets. 

"Let's be clear: @potus was not casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2022 election," she wrote. "He was making the opposite point: In 2020, a record number of voters turned out in the face of a pandemic, and election officials made sure they could vote and have those votes counted. He was explaining that the results would be illegitimate if states do what the former president asked them to do after the 2020 election: toss out ballots and overturn results after the fact. The Big Lie is putting our democracy at risk. We're fighting to protect it."

In Thursday's White House briefing, multiple reporters pressed Psaki about the president's remarks. If no changes to voting laws are passed, is the president still confident elections this fall will be legitimate? A reporter asked. "Yes," Psaki responded. 

Exactly what the president will or can pursue from an executive action standpoint is unclear. 

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