Biden, Harris to address voting rights Tuesday in Atlanta

AP Political
Joe Biden

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the Omicron variant in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will renew his push for federal legislation to protect voting rights next week in Georgia, where a new law limits how and when people can cast ballots, the White House announced Wednesday.

Biden will be joined in Atlanta on Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the administration’s point person on voting rights issues.

Biden and Harris will “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.

Republican opposition has left a bill that aims to set federal standards for state elections stalled in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

Biden and his fellow Democrats have been under extreme pressure by advocates of the bill to change Senate rules to either eliminate the filibuster outright or carve out an exception for certain bills, such as measures that deal with voting rights.

But Republicans oppose such rules changes, as do Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, however, announced this week that he’ll soon schedule a vote on easing the filibuster rules.

In a letter Monday to colleagues, Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Senate “must evolve” and will “debate and consider” the rule changes by Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as Democrats seek to overcome Republican opposition to their elections law package.

Biden has waded only cautiously into the debate, but previously has called on the Senate to send him legislation to protect “the sacred right to vote.” The president is a former veteran senator who largely stands by existing rules but is also under enormous political pressure to break the logjam on the voting legislation before the November midterm elections.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted Wednesday that Biden had said in December that, if necessary, he supports a rule change to uphold Americans’ right to vote.

“And this is reflective of the fact that while he is a creature of the Senate and somebody who respects the history of the Senate, he wants the Senate to function and he wants to move towards and is open to rules changes that will help the Senate function,” Psaki said.

Voting rights advocates warn that Republican-led states are passing restrictive laws and trying to install election officials loyal to former President Donald Trump in ways that could subvert future elections. Trump continues to lie about losing his reelection bid due to fraud, for which there is no credible evidence.

Trump urged his disappointed followers last Jan. 6 to “fight like hell” to continue his presidency, and a mob stormed the Capitol trying to stop Congress from certifying the state election tallies for Biden. It was the worst domestic attack on a seat of government in U.S. history.

Georgia, a traditionally Republican state that Biden won in November 2020 and which also sent two Democrats to the Senate shortly after Biden’s victory, is among states that have put new limits on how people can vote following Biden’s victory.

A measure signed into law last year by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, among other things, cuts the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot, shortens early voting before runoff elections and limits drop boxes where voters can deposit their completed ballots.

Biden is also expected to touch on voting rights in a speech Thursday at the Capitol marking the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection. But Psaki said Wednesday that he would have “more to say on that soon in a longer format” and that speech is set for Tuesday.

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