Biden faces skeptical base as he pushes voting rights in Georgia

In Brown’s view, she helped empower the Democrats, but a year later she and other black voters are worse off when it comes to their ability to vote. There is obvious frustration in her voice as she explains that the right to vote still does not seem to be a priority for the administration.

“It makes our job harder,” Brown said. “What am I supposed to tell people? … How do I get them to come back?” “

Brown’s skepticism exemplified the political thicket Biden entered when he landed in Atlanta on Tuesday to deliver his final speech on the need to protect democracy, pass electoral reforms and, if necessary, revise the rules of the Senate. After months of inaction, those who have asked for his help increasingly doubt that he can respond.

A number of groups boycotted Biden’s speech. And the state’s foremost voting rights activist – gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams – also failed to show up, citing an unspecified scheduling conflict.

Biden’s speech, delivered to the Atlanta University Center Consortium on a lively afternoon, served not only to highlight the state’s onslaught of Republican voting laws restricting access to ballots, but also to maintain the very Democratic base which, according to Brown, is disillusioned, engaged.

The president, who served more than 30 years in a thorn in the side Senate, continued to push back the undemocratic forces led by his predecessor. A self-proclaimed “institutionalist”, he condemned the room in which he once served as “the envelope of his old self” and warned that the “threat to our democracy is so serious” that it warranted “getting rid of it. filibuster “if he voted. human rights law cannot pass otherwise.

Biden appealed to the sense of history of national lawmakers and reminded the public that he was “so old” that he was alive and had started his studies in 1963 when Fannie Lou Hamer was taken out of a bus, jailed and beaten, after registering voters in Mississippi. He asked national and state lawmakers how they would like to be remembered as they face the same questions as their predecessors, whether in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday in Selma or during Lyndon’s adoption. B. Johnson of the Voting Rights Act 1965. Sometimes it seemed like Biden was wondering too.

“I ask all the elected Americans, how do you want to be remembered? Consistent moments in history, they present a choice, ”Biden said. “Do you want to be on Dr. King’s side or George Wallace’s side?” Want to be on John Lewis or Bull Connor’s side? Want to side with Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? Now is the time to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.

Those who showed up to watch Biden speak said they were eager to hear him and Vice President Kamala Harris would make his case. In interviews with a dozen attendees, including organizers, city council members, students and civil rights leaders, two things were repeated: a desire for Biden to present a plan for the passage of the two projects. of law before the Senate and a shameless, persistent and vocal speech the approval to modify or eliminate the filibuster.

“I wish they had done it sooner, but I’m glad they are doing it now,” said Melanie Campbell, who joined a virtual meeting with officials from the White House and ‘other civil rights leaders last week. Campbell and other major black women’s organizers had asked Harris and Biden to come to Georgia.

Some attendees argued that Biden was not the obstacle. “We all have to remember that FDR and LBJ had significant majorities in Congress. The Senate is the problem, not the President, and unfortunately, until we change the composition of the Senate, advancing civil rights will be an uphill battle, ”said Neil Makhija, executive director of the National Civic Organization South. -Asian IMPACT, who attended the Atlanta speech.

But, for others, the skepticism was not too deep. Atlanta NAACP member Gerald Riggs issued a warning similar to Brown’s as he mingled with other local organizers, elected officials and agents who waited for BIden.

“We mobilized far too many people at the polls with the promise of passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and George Floyd’s Justice and Policing Act, none of which have been brought forward.” , said Riggs. “I therefore speak on behalf of all the activists that I have mobilized and the voters that we have mobilized. They want to hear about it. No more excuses. “

The White House has repeatedly defended the sequencing of Biden’s program, noting that he entered the Oval Office at an unprecedented time as a global pandemic raged and Americans suffered from an economic downturn. Aides also notes that attacks on democracy and the protection of voting rights are the reason Biden launched his campaign while claiming that Biden was far from being shy about the threats the country faced.

Biden’s speech came two days after the start of the new session of the Georgia state legislature, as Republicans sought to develop the bill they passed last year and which was boosted. by former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election. This time around, some Republicans are calling for a measure to completely ban drop boxes for mail-in ballots.

On Tuesday morning, inside Georgia State House, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, presented his own proposals for federal election legislation – which includes amending the Constitution to require the “reserved vote citizens ”and national voter identification laws – while accusing Biden of pushing for a“ federal election takeover ”. Baoky Vu, a Republican who was kicked out of his DeKalb County Election Board post and censored by his local party for opposing his party’s restrictive election laws, has said he supports the re-election bid by Raffensperger. But he also continues to be concerned about the bills passed in Georgia last year.

“This is a deliberate, step-by-step attempt to undermine the institutions of democracy itself,” Vu said of the momentum in Georgia and across the country. “That’s why I think it’s so essential that people focus on what can be done at the federal level. “

While some Georgia Democrats were happy to see the president shine the spotlight on these laws, others were curious why Biden was not elsewhere. Among the dozens of local Georgia Democrats who chose not to run on Tuesday was Erick Allen, candidate for lieutenant governor and chairman of the Cobb County delegation to State House.

“I think it is appropriate to make this your first stop to honor the legacy of John Lewis’ work, given that this is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that they are trying to tackle. get passed, ”Allen said. “But I think there are other places that need to hear this message to pressure their senators to make it happen. Georgia gave it a majority in the Senate. So we did all we could do. on this subject. “

“If you’re going to Georgia, you also have to announce that the next time Air Force One’s tires hit the ground, it’ll be Arizona and then West Virginia,” Allen continued, referring to the home states. . of the two Senate Democrats most resistant to changing the filibuster rules: Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (DW.Va.)

But it wasn’t just Biden’s presence but Abrams’ absence that created the buzz at Tuesday’s event. Queuing for security, a number of city council members and local Democratic officials wondered aloud why Georgia’s candidate for governor was not in attendance.

“It’s all over the news,” one woman said.

Abrams would later issue a statement noting that she and Biden hooked up to the phone in the morning and had a conversation that “reaffirmed” their “common commitment to the US project for freedom and democracy.”

For activists watching, talking about who or who was not present was a distraction, ultimately, from the big question: What next? Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, praised Biden for his “powerful words,” but said he had “not prioritized voting rights protections in the same way he had prioritized other political issues such as BBB, the infrastructure bill or Covid relief. ” It was time, he said, for the president to recalibrate the focus.

“Using the intimidation chair is something every president uses to build momentum for political initiatives. But he did it today. But until we actually have an invoice on his desk, ready to be signed, there is still a lot of work to be done.

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