Georgia has become the center of the political landscape – and it’s likely to stay there for the remainder of 2022.
President Joe Biden traveled there Tuesday to kick off a push for voting rights legislation. With Republican primary wars brewing, Democratic discontent over Congress failing to stymie the state’s restrictive new voting law growing and two of the nation’s marquee gubernatorial and Senate races set for this fall, Biden used his visit to Georgia on Tuesday as a springboard for a push for national legislation to protect voting rights.
“The question is, where will the institution of the United States Senate stand? Every senator, Democrat, Republican and independent, will have to declare where they stand not just for the moment, but for the ages,” Biden said.
“Will you stand against voter suppression? Yes or no? That’s the question you’ll answer. Will you stand to against election subversion? Yes or no? We stand for democracy? Yes or no,” he asked.
“There’s one thing every senator, every American, should remember: History has never been kind to those who have sided with voter suppression over voters rights. And it’ll be even less kind for those who side with elections subversion,” Biden said. “So I asked every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?”
It’s an effort to counter Republicans in statehouses across the country who have enacted restrictive new laws in response to former President Donald Trump’s persistent lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
However, there is reason for skepticism that Biden’s public push will have much impact.
Georgia’s move into the center of the political universe is certain to be overshadowed by much bigger news in the football-obsessed region. The University of Georgia’s win over the University of Alabama in Monday night’s national championship game – the biggest win for Georgia in more than 40 years – will continue to dominate headlines in the state.
Meanwhile, where Biden’s administration hoped to find unity for a speech being attended by family members of Martin Luther King Jr., Georgia’s Democratic congressional delegation and the heads of a host of civil rights and voting rights leaders, the President was instead met by skepticism within his own party.
The state’s most prominent voting rights activist, Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams, skipped Biden’s event due to a scheduling conflict.
And voting rights groups that have long criticized Biden’s White House for failing to take a more aggressive approach to legislation that has stalled in the Senate, where Democrats don’t have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster or to change the filibuster rules to work around it, are increasingly vocal about their frustration. Democrats are set to force votes this week on bills that have no way forward unless filibuster rules are changed.
A coalition of voting rights groups boycotted Biden’s event in Atlanta on Tuesday.
“We don’t need another speech from the President,” Cliff Albright, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a group boycotting the event, said on CNN Tuesday morning. “We don’t need them to come to Georgia and use us as a prop. What we need is work.”
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at the Atlanta University Center Consortium on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University.
The site, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “is a crossroads for students and for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Many of their students participated in the civil rights movement through sit-ins and protests.”
Biden is expected to use his speech to argue for a carveout to the Senate’s filibuster – which requires at least 60 votes to advance legislation – for voting rights bills.
The two measures he is pushing – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – would jointly bolster voting protections by, among other things, creating national standards for mail-in voting and restoring some stripped-out elements of the Voting Rights Act.
However, even as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, vows to bring those bills for votes as soon as Wednesday, some Democrats remain unwilling to change the filibuster rules. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia reiterated his belief Tuesday morning that “getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make” the Senate “work better.”
Democratic officials and strategists and voting rights groups have long seen Georgia as the forefront of the nation’s voting rights battle. Prior to Trump’s election, Republicans in the state had already enacted strict laws that experts said disproportionately disenfranchised people of color.
None of that has stopped Trump from sniping at the state’s top Republican officials from the right, though. He has blamed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for his loss to Biden by nearly 12,000 votes in the state in 2020.
Kemp now faces a primary challenge from former Sen. David Perdue, a Republican who lost his seat in a 2020 runoff. Perdue has Trump’s support and has echoed his lies about fraud in the 2020 election. US Rep. Jody Hice, meanwhile, is running against Raffensperger in the GOP primary for secretary of state.
Still, the Republican officials that Trump has targeted were using Biden’s trip to try to shore up support with their own base.
Raffensperger held a news conference Tuesday in which he characterized Biden as seeking a “federal elections takeover” and misrepresenting the state’s restrictive new voting law.
He said he wants an amendment to the US Constitution that would ban undocumented people from voting and establish a national voter ID requirement.
“President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are coming here later today to push for policies that will undermine the integrity of our elections,” Raffensperger said. “Make no mistake. This is as an attempt to weaken election security under the guise of voting rights.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein, Manu Raju, Ali Zaslav and Jason Morris contributed to this report.