Biden and Harris deliver voting rights speech in Atlanta

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 5:11 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022
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4:10 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

At least 19 states passed 34 laws that restrict voting in some way in the last year, analysis shows

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten

As a likely showdown looms in Congress this week over federal voting legislation, Republicans aligned with former President Trump are pressing ahead at the state level to change voting procedures, conduct partisan investigations of the last presidential contest and seize more control over the machinery of elections.

Democrats and voting rights advocates warn that the unrelenting campaign to cast doubt on the legitimacy of President Biden's 2020 victory over Trump could erode voter confidence in elections and increase the chances that losing candidates and their supporters will challenge the results of free and fair elections in the future.

"Every day that goes by, I am more and more concerned about the direction and resilience of American democracy," said David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research. "I'm worried that we are heading down a path where there are those who cannot accept that ... their candidate could lose."

Recent polling underscores the peril. A CBS News-YouGov poll found that more than 6 in 10 of Americans said they now expect violence over the loss of future presidential elections. And a separate poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland found that about one in three Americans think violent action against the government is sometimes justified.

The Post-UMD poll also exposed a stark partisan divide: 40% of Republicans and 41% of Independents said violence against the government could be justified versus 23% of Democrats.

In the last year, 19 states passed 34 laws that restrict voting in some way, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. And more changes are expected as state legislatures convene early this year.

Brennan's analysis found 88 restrictive bills introduced last year will carry over into upcoming legislative sessions, and that 13 new bills had been pre-filed as of last month.

The new proposals include a measure that would ban the use of drop boxes in Georgia — where Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 28 years. An Arizona lawmaker wants to establish stricter voter ID requirements.

Read more about where things stand on voting rights on the state level.

5:11 p.m. ET, January 13, 2022

Here's what the Senate Democrats' voting rights proposals would do

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Biden is set to push for two pieces of pending voting rights legislation in an Atlanta speech this afternoon, according to the White House, as Senate Democrats continue to face hurdles in the chamber.

"The President will forcefully advocate for protecting the most bedrock American right: the right to vote and have your voice counted in a free, fair and security election that is not tainted by partisan manipulation," press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. "He’ll make clear in the former district of (Rep. John Lewis) that the only way to do that is for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set the stage for a showdown this month over voting rights — pledging to muscle through sweeping new federal legislation aimed at counteracting moves by Republicans in state capitols to restrict access to the ballot.

But to do so, he must accomplish a near-impossible feat and persuade reluctant senators in his own caucus to change the chamber's rules to bypass the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome Republicans' repeated blockades of the bills.

Despite supporting voting measures, two of his fellow Democrats — Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — have defended the so-called filibuster, which requires 10 Republicans to support advancing legislation in an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.

Time is running out for Democrats, who are racing to establish new ground rules for voting ahead of this year's midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress.

Republican-controlled legislatures, particularly in battleground states that saw increased turnout and Democratic victories in 2020, already have enacted a raft of new laws that limit absentee balloting, impose additional ID requirements and otherwise create new hurdles to voting. And more restrictions are likely to pass in upcoming state legislative sessions.

Schumer has set a deadline of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17 to vote on rule changes if Republicans once again block consideration of the bills.

The looming confrontation comes as some GOP leaders have begun to voice support for a more modest approach: updating an arcane 19th century law, known as the Electoral Count Act, that details how Congress counts Electoral College votes from each state.

Schumer has insisted that an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act is no substitute for bigger electoral reforms.

As the Senate gears up to tackle voting rights, here's a look at the various legislative proposals and what they would do:

The Freedom to Vote Act: This bill from a group of Democrats, including Manchin and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, sweeps into one place broad changes to election and campaign-finance laws. The goal is to set baseline rules that all states must follow in administering federal elections.

Among its provisions: Making Election Day a public holiday, mandating same-day voter registration, guaranteeing that all voters can request mail-in ballots and restoring the federal voting rights for ex-felons once they are released from prison.

It also seeks to safeguard against partisan takeovers of election administration, ban partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts and mandate disclosure of donors to deep-pocketed "dark money" groups that seek to influence elections.

All 50 members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate back the bill; Republicans have rejected it as federal overreach.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: The bill, named for the late Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who died in 2020, would restore the power of the federal government to oversee state voting laws to prevent discrimination against minority voters.

A 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted a central pillar of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which required nine states and parts of others with a history of racial discrimination to win approval or "preclearance" from the US Justice Department or a federal judge before changing their electoral policies.

Soon after the ruling, some states began enacting new voting laws, such as adding stricter voter identification requirements. And in the last year, Republican-led states have moved quickly to change more laws, spurred on by former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that widespread voter fraud led to his 2020 loss.

The John Lewis bill would change the formula used to determine which states need to obtain "preclearance" for their voting rules. It would extend preclearance coverage to states that have incurred multiple voting rights violations during the previous 25 years -- an attempt to address the Supreme Court majority's concern that some states were being unfairly punished for decades-old misdeeds under the old law, rather than current discriminatory practices.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the only Senate Republican to sign on to the bill.

Read the full story and more about the bills here.

CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed reporting to this post.

3:28 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Schumer vows to hold vote on changing Senate rules despite Sinema and Manchin opposition

From CNN's Morgan Rimmer and Manu Raju

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reiterated once again that the Senate will hold votes on voting rights and filibuster changes “on or before MLK Day,” and added that more on timing will be released after President Biden speaks this afternoon.

“We’ve been waiting for the President’s speech. That will happen this afternoon, and then you will see the schedule,” he said.

Asked by CNN’s Manu Raju why they would pursue a rules change without key moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona signing on, possibly dooming it to fail, Schumer replied, “we’re still working to get it done, and we are still having, as we speak, active discussions with both Senators Manchin and Sinema.”

He added that the, “job of a senator is to vote, and the more important and pressing the issue is, the more that plays. We are going to vote.” 

“Every Senator’s going to have to make a choice, plain and simple, about how to preserve our democratic republic," he said.

However, Schumer still did not spell out which rules changes would be voted on. Instead, he said that they “are exploring a variety of different changes that can get 50 votes.”

Schumer also noted that “experts have told us moving by mid-January is about the latest we can go,” on voting rights ahead of the midterms this November.

Other senators who had previously balked at changing the filibuster spoke about why they believe it is necessary to do so now.

“I have been very reluctant since being here to talk at all about changing the filibuster,” said Sen. Angus King, a Democrat from Maine. “If we were here talking about a policy issue, I wouldn’t be at this podium. But we are not talking about a policy issue, we are talking about a structural issue. We are talking about how our system works.”

“I believe that the vote taken this week is the most important vote that I will ever take in my life, not because of any issue, but because of the structure of democracy itself,” he added.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, said the Senate must act “to fix a problem in this country that could literally destroy this democracy. And if we don’t, shame on us. Shame on us as a body.”

2:47 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Biden and Harris lay wreath at crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ahead of voting rights speech

(Pool)
(Pool)

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are laying a wreath at the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King in Atlanta, and will next visit Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, according to the White House schedule.

At 3:50 p.m. ET, the pair is scheduled to deliver a major speech on voting rights.

During his remarks, which will take place on the grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, Biden "will forcefully advocate for protecting the most bedrock American right: The right to vote and have your voice counted in a free, fair and secure election that is not tainted by partisan manipulation," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.

Without changing the filibuster rules, it's unclear how either voting rights bill Biden wants to be passed will get done. Biden is expected to bring up changing the rules in his Atlanta speech. He has previously expressed his support for making an exception to the filibuster rules in order to pass voting rights legislation.

CNN's Maegan Vazquez, Jeremy Diamond and Kate Sullivan contributed reporting to this post. 

2:36 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

You likely will hear the term "nuclear option" a lot today. Here's what it could mean for voting rights 

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters after a lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the Capitol in September.
Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters after a lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the Capitol in September. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As Democrats push to pass voting rights legislation through Congress, there's been talk of using a process known as the "nuclear option."

It's an overheated phrase that boils down to changing Senate rules to pass legislation with a simple majority.

Senators need 60 votes to do just about anything in the Senate but change the rules. That takes only 51 votes.

Nuclear? That sounds harsh for something as simple as a rule change.

Senators view themselves as being part of the "world's greatest deliberative body." It's a debatable point, but in order to protect the minority party and make sure nobody does anything without a full debate, Senate rules require that 60 of 100 senators agree to votes to move toward passing legislation. In the fancy language they speak on Capitol Hill, limiting debate and moving toward a vote is called "invoking cloture."

Actually passing the legislation takes only 51 votes, but because of the procedural rules, it takes 60 to invoke cloture and get to the actual vote. By requiring only 51 votes to limit debate, the entire character of the chamber would change. Instead of being forced to get buy-in from the minority party — Republicans right now — the majority party would be able to pass anything for which it could get a simple majority.

The idea is that it would figuratively "blow up" the Senate. For now, a simple majority Senate excites many Democrats who want to pass more legislation. It frightens Republicans whose strategy is to grind things on Capitol Hill to a halt.

The symbolism of "going nuclear" portends a sort of mutually assured destruction in the future, to borrow another Cold War term. Democrats won't always control the Senate. And when Republicans are in charge, you can bet they'll return the favor.

Has this kind of rule change ever happened before? Yes. We're already living in a post-nuclear option world when it comes to presidential nominees.

Most judicial and executive branch nominees used to require 60 votes to invoke cloture. Democrats changed the rules to require only a simple majority to get votes on most nominees during the Obama administration. Republicans changed the rules for Supreme Court nominees during the Trump administration.

Read more about the "nuclear option" here.

1:16 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

White House explains why Atlanta was chosen as the site for Biden's voting rights speech

From CNN's Betsy Klein 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki outlined the historical significance of the selection of Atlanta Tuesday as the site for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ remarks on voting rights. 

Georgia, Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One, is one of the 19 states that passed “voter suppression laws attacking the right to vote,” in 2020.

“While these voter suppression efforts are being driven by the big lie, they are reflections of some of the darkest chapters in our history,” she said.

The state, which was the cradle of the civil rights movement, was also the home of the late Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the movement for whom one of the current pieces of legislation aimed at shoring up voting rights is named. 

Biden and Harris will be speaking at the Atlanta University Center Consortium on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University.

This site, 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 si- ins and protests. Clark Atlanta was the first institution in the country to award graduate degrees to African Americans. Morehouse is the only all-male HBCU and it's Dr. King's alma mater. And Spelman is one of only two all women HBCUs.”

Ahead of their remarks, Biden and Harris will visit the King Center, a living memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where they will meet with some of King’s immediate family, Psaki said, and lay a wreath at the crypt of the civil rights leader and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

1:14 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Biden "shares frustration" with activists at impasse on voting rights, White House says 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the White House in December.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the White House in December. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Biden shares the frustration of voting rights advocates — some of whom are boycotting his speech in Atlanta on Tuesday — at an impasse on voting rights, the White House says.

A number of voting rights groups say they're skipping Biden's speech, claiming he's offering little more than empty promises. A number of different civil rights leaders and Democratic lawmakers are attending.

"He shares the desire to get this done. He shares their frustration it’s not done yet. And he’s looking forward to delivering the speech today," press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Earlier today, Biden said he'd spoken with Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who is citing a scheduling conflict for not attending Biden's event.

"The President had a warm conversation with Stacey Abrams this morning," Psaki said. "He saw it as a continuation of the conversation they’ve had the last several years about their shared commitment to protecting the right to vote, protecting democracy in this country, and they agreed its important to fight for this and work together moving forward."

"He is the first to say — he understands scheduling conflicts and how they appear in your life," she said.

Psaki noted there was a "plane full" of Democratic lawmakers and other advocates for voting rights joining Biden for Tuesday's events.

"The President will be meeting with range of civil rights leaders from many generations while he’s in Georgia today who share his commitment to getting voting rights legislation done and signing these two pieces of legislation into law," she said.

1:13 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Schumer on voting legislation: Senate "is going to act as soon as tomorrow" 

From CNN's Clare Foran

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to the press in March.
Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to the press in March. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he anticipates that President Biden will “give a strong speech” on voting rights and voter suppression today in Georgia “and will urge that we in the Senate change the rules so that we can prevent these awful and nasty laws from being implemented.”

“He will use the bully pulpit of the presidency to make the case that the time has come for the Senate to pass voting rights legislation and take whatever steps necessary to address this chamber’s rules in order to accomplish that goal,” Schumer said.

“The Senate is going to act as soon as tomorrow,” Schumer said. “It is my intention to once again bring legislation to the floor to fight back against the threats to democracy and protect people’s access to the ballot.”

More background: Schumer is expected to bring up voting legislation this week that Senate Republicans will again block. Senate Democrats are then expected to push a vote to change the filibuster rules, but there is no indication that would succeed either as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have repeatedly made clear they are opposed to getting rid of the filibuster.  

“As the President will say later: We’re approaching a decisive moment for the country,” Schumer said.

12:28 p.m. ET, January 11, 2022

McConnell warns post-nuclear Senate would be ugly — and slow

From CNN's Ted Barrett

Sen. Mitch McConnell is seen during a news briefing at the Capitol in Washington in June.
Sen. Mitch McConnell is seen during a news briefing at the Capitol in Washington in June. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ominously warned Tuesday that if Democrats go through with their threat to use the nuclear option to weaken the filibuster for legislation, he would “personally guarantee” that routine Senate business would grind to a halt to protest the Democrats actions that McConnell said would hurt millions of voters represented by GOP senators in the 50-50 Senate. 

“If my colleagues try to break the Senate, to silence those millions of Americans, we will make their voices heard in this chamber in ways that are more inconvenient for the majority and this White House then anyone has seen in living memory,” McConnell said noting that many bills and nominees were approved last year with bipartisan cooperation and support.

“So what would a post-nuclear Senate look like? I assure you it would not be more efficient or more productive, I personally guarantee it. Do my colleagues understand how many times per day the Senate needs and gets unanimous consent for basic housekeeping? Do they understand how many times things would require roll call votes?” he asked. “Our colleagues who are itching to drain every drop of collegiality out of this body have not even begun to consider how that would work.”

What the nuclear option means: As Democrats push to pass voting rights legislation through Congress, there's been talk of using a process known as the "nuclear option."

It's an overheated phrase that boils down to changing Senate rules to pass legislation with a simple majority. Senators need 60 votes to do just about anything in the Senate but change the rules. That takes only 51 votes.

Nuclear? That sounds harsh for something as simple as a rule change.

Senators view themselves as being part of the "world's greatest deliberative body." It's a debatable point, but in order to protect the minority party and make sure nobody does anything without a full debate, Senate rules require that 60 of 100 senators agree to votes to move toward passing legislation. In the fancy language they speak on Capitol Hill, limiting debate and moving toward a vote is called "invoking cloture."

Actually passing the legislation takes only 51 votes, but because of the procedural rules, it takes 60 to invoke cloture and get to the actual vote. By requiring only 51 votes to limit debate, the entire character of the chamber would change. Instead of being forced to get buy-in from the minority party — Republicans right now — the majority party would be able to pass anything for which it could get a simple majority.

The idea is that it would figuratively "blow up" the Senate. For now, a simple majority Senate excites many Democrats who want to pass more legislation. It frightens Republicans whose strategy is to grind things on Capitol Hill to a halt.

The symbolism of "going nuclear" portends a sort of mutually assured destruction in the future, to borrow another Cold War term. Democrats won't always control the Senate. And when Republicans are in charge, you can bet they'll return the favor.

Read more here.

CNN's Zachary B. Wolf contributed reporting to this post.