President Joe Biden on Friday called a sweeping elections bill signed into law in Georgia “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity,” saying the Justice Department is “taking a look” at the measure.
Asked if there was anything the White House could do to protect voting rights in Georgia, Biden told reporters on a tarmac in Delaware, “We’re working on that right now. We don’t know quite exactly what we can do at this point. The Justice Department’s taking a look as well.”
A spokesperson for the Justice Department told CNN earlier Friday that the agency is “aware of the law,” but had no further comment.
In a statement released earlier Friday, Biden called on Congress to pass voting rights legislation that would counter restrictions Republicans are trying to push through at the state level across the country.
“Recount after recount and court case after court case upheld the integrity and outcome of a clearly free, fair, and secure democratic process,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House, referring to the 2020 election, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate in nearly three decades to win the state.
Georgia is the first presidential battleground to impose new voting restrictions following Biden’s victory in the state, but the bill, which Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Thursday evening, is part of a national Republican effort to restrict access to the ballot after the 2020 election saw record turnout.
Biden narrowly won the state of Georgia last fall, the first Democratic presidential nominee to pull it off since 1992. The election results in the battleground state were unsuccessfully disputed by then-President Donald Trump, whose lies about voter fraud have given rise to measures like Georgia’s, which he praised in a statement Friday.
But Biden has minced no words as to whether he thinks the provisions are racially motivated.
“This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end,” Biden said in the statement, noting how the restrictions disproportionately target Black voters, who proved crucial to recent Democratic victories in Georgia.
Georgia’s new law imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water and gives state officials more power over local elections.
“Instead of celebrating the rights of all Georgians to vote or winning campaigns on the merits of their ideas, Republicans in the state instead rushed through an un-American law to deny people the right to vote. This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience,” Biden said.
Shortly after releasing the statement, the President told reporters outside the White House that the Georgia law was “an atrocity.”
“If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency – they passed a law saying you can’t provide water for people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote,” Biden said before boarding Marine One.
Republicans in Georgia have pushed back on Biden’s assessment of the new law.
“There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot – every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in-person,” Kemp said on Friday. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who defied Trump’s pleas in a telephone call to find votes to overturn Biden’s victory, also asserted that “the cries of ‘voter suppression’ from those on the left ring hollow” when it comes to the new law.
However, voting rights activists say the law targets Black voters in several ways.
Black voters, for example, are more likely to vote remotely and less likely than other voters to have the identification now required by the law to cast an absentee vote. And voting rights activists argue that the provision in the law that makes it a misdemeanor to approach voters in line at the polls with food or water will disproportionately affect communities of color, where the average wait time to cast a ballot in last year’s June primary was longer than in predominantly White communities.
Advocates also say the newly-signed bill in Georgia underscores the need for federal legislation to set a national standard for voting rules.
Biden said in his Friday statement that he will take his “case to the American people – including Republicans who joined the broadest coalition of voters ever in this past election to put country before party.”
He made his case several times Friday. During an afternoon fundraiser for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Biden thanked Georgia for supporting him and further criticized Republican efforts to add voting restrictions.
“If anyone ever wondered if one vote can make a difference, Georgia just proved it,” the President said.
Georgia has become a pivotal state politically. Besides Biden’s victory, two Democrats won runoff elections earlier this year that flipped control of the US Senate.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki spoke out against the law at the White House briefing earlier Friday, saying, “It should not be harder, it should be easier to vote. We should not put limitations in place.”
Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon was arrested and removed from the Georgia Capitol on Thursday after passage of the bill. In a video posted to social media, Cannon is seen being led away by several officers with her hands cuffed behind her back.
Psaki said on Friday, “I think anyone who saw that video would have been deeply concerned by the actions that were taken by law enforcement to arrest her when she’s simply, by the video that was provided, seemed to be knocking on the door to, to see if she could watch a bill being signed into law.”
Biden said in his first White House news conference on Thursday that he would “do everything” in his power to halt efforts to restrict voting rights and described the Republican efforts underway in state legislatures as “un-American.”
This story has been updated with additional comments and background.
CNN’s DJ Judd and Evan Perez contributed to this report.