WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden has made protecting U.S. voting rights a top priority in recent days, and he’s traveling to Georgia with the vice president to help cement that point. But some civil rights activists, indifferent to another speech, do not want to hear it.
Biden will pay homage to past civil rights battles on Tuesday – by visiting the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once appeared in the pulpit and laying a wreath in the crypt of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. His speech should not contain any announcements of new executive action. Instead, his aides say, he will use the presidential megaphone to speak out on voting rights and concerns about American democracy.
“The president will advocate forcefully to protect America’s most basic right, the right to vote, and to have your voice heard in free, fair and secure elections that are not marred by partisan manipulation,” the president said on Monday. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
This is not enough for some defenders of the right to vote, who boycott the speech and instead spend the day at work. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is also skipping the event; aides said she had a conflict but did not explain further.
“We are beyond speeches. At this point what we need, what we demand is federal legislation, ”said LaTosha Brown of Black Votes Matter. And that can’t happen soon enough, she said.
Activist groups have said they would rather Biden stay in Washington to work to break the deadlock on voting rights legislation in Congress. So far, Democrats have failed to come to an agreement among themselves on potential changes to Senate filibuster rules to allow action on voting rights, despite months of private negotiations.
Biden himself has only waded cautiously through the debate – he’s a long-time former senator who largely sticks to existing rules, but also comes under enormous political pressure to achieve a breakthrough.
Voting rights advocates in Georgia and across the country are increasingly worried about what could happen in 2022 and beyond, following the enactment of Republicans-pushed laws that make it more difficult to vote in the wake of the loss of Donald Trump in 2020 and subsequent pressures to overturn the results, despite no evidence of widespread fraud.
Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who is the senior pastor of the church Biden will visit and who made history as the first black senator elected to Georgia, said before the speech that “whatever can happen will continue. to shine on the urgency of this issue is important.
Warnock was planning to travel with Biden to Georgia on Tuesday. He said he thought Biden understood that “democracy itself is threatened by this general onslaught that we have witnessed by state legislatures across the country, and it is a moral moment.” Everyone must introduce themselves.
And Psaki dismissed the idea that Biden wasn’t a strong enough defender.
“I think we would challenge the idea that the president was not active or vocal. He gave a series of speeches, he pleaded for the adoption of the right to vote, ”she declared. “We understand the frustration of many advocates that this has not yet been enacted into law. He would have loved to have signed this into law himself.
But laws have already been passed in at least 19 states, making voting more difficult. Voting rights groups see the changes as a more subtle form of voting restrictions such as literacy tests and voting taxes once used to deny black voters the right to vote, now a key Democratic constituency.
And Republicans who have lined up behind Trump’s election disinformation are separately promoting efforts to influence future elections by installing sympathetic leaders in local election posts and supporting some of those who participated in the violent January 6 at the United States Capitol one year. There are.
Central to it all is Georgia, one of the main states on the 2020 election battlefield. As the votes recounted, Trump told a senior state election official that he wanted the official to be recounted. “Finds” enough votes to reverse his loss. The state’s electoral votes went to Biden, however, and his two Senate seats also went to Democrats.
Then last year, the Republican governor signed a radical rewrite of electoral rules that, among other things, gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. This has led to concerns that the Republican-controlled state council might exert more influence over the administration of the elections, including the certification of the county’s results.
Voting activists in Georgia have said they are working tirelessly to give Democrats control of the Senate and the White House, and it’s time for Washington to step up.
Congressional Democrats, for their part, have drafted election legislation that would usher in the biggest overhaul of the U.S. election in a generation by breaking down voting barriers promulgated in the name of election security, reducing the influence of big money in politics. and limiting partisan influence. on the drawing of congressional districts.
The package would create national electoral standards that would trump GOP state-level laws. It would also restore the ability of the Department of Justice to enforce electoral laws in states with a history of discrimination.
But to pass the legislation, which Republicans categorically rejected, Democrats say they must change Senate rules allowing a minority of 41 senators to block a bill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., has set Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 17 as the deadline to pass election legislation or consider revising the rules. The Senate is expected to hold a series of test votes this week to highlight the Republican opposition.
“The ballot fight is as old as the Republic,” Schumer wrote to his colleagues. “Over the next few weeks, the Senate will once again reflect on how to complete this union and meet the historic challenges facing our democracy.”
Amy reported from Atlanta. PA Congresswoman Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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