Biden to champion voting rights in Georgia as clock ticks for reforms

Written by on January 11, 2022

January 11, 2022

(Fixes to 2022 in paragraph 2)

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden will travel to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace of Atlanta on Tuesday to jump start stalled efforts to reform U.S. voting rights after new laws by states that some activists say will deter Black voters from the polls.

His speech, delivered after Vice President Kamala Harris’ at historically Black Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, comes as Democrats gird themselves for tough 2022 midterm contests that could strip them of a congressional majority and any chance of federal changes to voting laws.

The speech marks Biden’s second in as many weeks warning about the health of the United States’ democracy. On Jan. 6, he targeted Republican former President Donald Trump’s “web of lies” about the 2020 election, blaming him for the deadly attacks on the U.S. Capitol a year before.

Trump continues to say voter fraud caused his 7 million vote loss to Biden in 2020, despite recounts and investigations that found no evidence. Since then, Republican lawmakers in 19 states passed dozens of laws making it harder to vote. Critics say these measures disproportionately affect minorities.

Biden wants to build public support for reforms to strengthen voting rights, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Both have so far withered under opposition from Republicans, who argue they would impose questionable national standards on locally run elections.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” Biden plans to say Tuesday, according to excerpted remarks provided by the White House.

“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday: “Leading Democrats say they want to break the Senate because of a sinister anti-voting plot that is sweeping America. Of course this is totally fake. It does not exist.”

Biden will be joined by NAACP President Derrick Johnson and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton in Atlanta, but some advocacy groups have been frustrated with a lack of progress and will boycott the president’s visit.

“We, along with other Georgia-based groups, told the president this is not the time and that we don’t need a photo op,” said April England-Albright, legal director for Black Voters Matter in Atlanta. “There has not been any real movement around voting rights legislation.”

Georgia was a battleground state in the 2020 election, and Democrats won two crucial U.S. Senate seats in runoff contests in January 2021. Later in the year, the state legislature approved sweeping voting restrictions The Justice Department sued, saying the law infringes the rights of Black voters.

King, who agitated for voting reforms and civil rights in the segregated South, was assassinated in 1968 and is remembered with a national U.S. holiday on Jan. 17. Democrats have set the holiday as a deadline for action on voting rights.

Biden, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats have for months been honing a strategy to pass bills that would expand early voting and strengthen federal oversight in states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls, according to people familiar with the matter.

Biden and Democrats “believe that passing federal legislation is a national imperative,” a White House official said.

Biden will support changing filibuster rules that currently require 60 senators to support most legislation, the White House has said, but those changes do not have the support of all Democratic lawmakers.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Merdie Nzanga and Richard Cowan; Editing by Heather Timmons and Cynthia Osterman)

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