The White House has outlined a planned speech at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, a wreath-laying ceremony at the burial place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and a visit to the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. The central focus of that visit ahead of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday is slated to be voting rights. “On Tuesday, Jan. 11, President Biden and Vice President Harris will travel to Atlanta, Georgia, to speak to the American people about the urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections from corrupt attempts to strip law-abiding citizens of their fundamental freedoms and allow partisan state officials to undermine vote counting processes,” the White House said in a media statement.
The Brennan Center in a year-end analysis identified 34 laws passed in 19 states to restrict voting access in 2021. Still, Democratic senators Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, and Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, are fiercely defending a filibuster that stands in the way of a simple Democratic majority passing federal legislation protecting voting rights.
A filibuster is an operational instrument requiring 60 votes instead of a simple majority to stall or block a vote. Senate Republicans have used it to delay civil rights legislation for decades. Rushing to beat midterm elections that will decide which party has a congressional majority, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set a deadline of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Jan. 17 to vote on changing the rules to get voting rights protections passed, CNN reported.
Georgia Democrats have said the president should not be absent in that fight to the finish line.
James Woodall, state president of the Georgia NAACP, tweeted on Thursday: “We did our part. We fought. We organized. We voted. And now it’s time for @potus and @VP to do theirs. Enough platitudes and niceties. VOTING RIGHTS NOW!!”
Twitter user Jeanette Boston tweeted: “The White House coming to GA is nothing more than political theater. The WH should be traveling to the states of the folks who are stalling voter rights, such as Manchin & Sinema. But coming to GA will do nothing. Voter activist are tired of the WH faking the funk.”
The protections are in the form of proposed legislation including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The For the People Act would expand ballot access by creating automatic voter registration throughout the country, restore the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expand early voting, and modernize voting systems, LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of the voter outreach organization Black Voters Matter, said on Twitter. The Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the Voting Rights Act and update the formula used to decide which states require preclearance from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to change any element related to voting in a protected jurisdiction.
Voting rights activists in Georgia have long been advocating for the legislation that would have prevented state Republicans from rushing a 100-page voter suppression bill, now law, through the state legislature. The law restricts the number of drop boxes available to voters, requires voter ID for mail-in ballots, and gives the Republican-controlled state Legislature more control over local elections officials.
Many state Democrats consider the law a retaliatory strike from Republicans after Georgia voters backed a Democrat for president for the first time since they elected Bill Clinton in 1992 then unseated Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in a Senate runoff election last January.
And with the fate of federal voting rights protections hanging in the balance, voting rights advocates have made it clear that they will not accept Biden’s visit as a consolation prize. Representatives from the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, the New Georgia Project Action Fund, and the GALEO Impact Action Fund signed a statement detailing their opposition to more talk and little action from the Biden administration.
“Georgia voters made history and made their voices heard, overcoming obstacles, threats, and suppressive laws to deliver the White House and the US Senate,” the coalition said in a statement The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained. “In return, a visit has been forced on them, requiring them to accept political platitudes and repetitious, bland promises. Such an empty gesture, without concrete action, without signs of real, tangible work, is unacceptable.”
They added later in the statement:
”We reject any political visit that does not also come with policy progress — with signs of clear work done, of something accomplished. We reject any visit that fails to begin with the question “How does this serve the people of Georgia?” It is time for final action on voting rights, and Georgians are waiting.”