WASHINGTON – President Biden will approve changing Senate rules to pass new voting rights protections during a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, the most important step he will take to pressure lawmakers to are acting on an issue he has called the biggest test of American democracy since the Civil War.
Mr Biden will not go so far as to call for the large-scale elimination of filibustering, a senatorial tradition that allows the minority party to kill legislation that does not garner 60 votes, according to a senior official in the Senate. administration that viewed the speech. But Mr Biden will say he supports an “exclusion” of filibuster in the voting rights case, the official said.
Citing “repeated obstruction” by Republicans, Biden will approve the change in Senate rules, the official said. The president will argue that the systematic obstruction protected “from extreme attacks on the most fundamental constitutional right”.
“It’s one of those defining moments,” Biden told reporters Tuesday, before leaving for Georgia. “People are going to be judged, where were they before and where were they after the vote. History will judge. And so the risk is to make sure people understand how important this is. “
Mr Biden’s visit to Georgia is aimed at boosting a Democratic-led effort to pass new protections for Senate voting rights at 50-50 in the coming days, though chances are slim that he will be able to rally the necessary voices. And even with his new call for a filibuster exclusion, changing Senate rules would require the support of the 50 Democrats and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie. Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, have expressed strong public opposition to changing the filibuster rules.
The president takes a bet by raising an issue that he may not be able to resolve. But after exhausting his political capital on other efforts, including a bipartisan infrastructure deal and a stalled social spending plan, he faces growing frustration from allies who say he doesn’t ‘hasn’t done enough as restrictive voting measures pass through Republican-led state houses across the country. Biden’s advisers have pledged he will strongly support two voting rights bills that could roll back those efforts.
A bill introduced by the Democrats, the Free Voting Act, would, among other provisions, curb state efforts to restrict postal or postal voting, to make Election Day a day. holiday and prevent state lawmakers from redesigning districts in a way that advocates say denies representation to minority voters. Another law, the John Lewis Advancement of Voting Rights Act, would restore crucial anti-discrimination elements of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, admitted that expectations around the speech were high: “He would not go to Georgia tomorrow if he was not ready and ready to raise this issue and keep going. to fight for it, ”she said. journalists Monday.
But the president’s advisers have been much less specific about the solutions he might come up with, and a bipartisan way forward is virtually impossible. Mr Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate and considers himself a consensus builder, has faced resistance from Republicans over voting rights legislation.
Last week, New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said Republicans may have until Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to drop their opposition to debate and votes on the issue. , or face the prospect of revising the filibuster rules. .
Many Democrats say such an exclusion would only apply to constitutional rights-based issues such as voting. But Republicans and others say it would inevitably be extended to other laws, diminishing the overall power of filibuster.
Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell promised a scorched earth response if Democrats go this route: “Since Senator Schumer is determined to try to break the Senate, Republicans will show how this reckless action would have immediate consequences.” , said McConnell. in a statement Monday.
Republicans argued that Democrats were using voting rights legislation to try to gain a partisan advantage by seeking to impose their preferred rules on states that have long regulated their own elections. But activists say critics ignore glaring examples of voter suppression. Voting rights groups in Georgia have previously filed a federal lawsuit that accuses lawmakers of redesigning a congressional district to benefit Republican candidates and denying representation to black voters.
On Tuesday, Biden will draw on the power of symbolism during his trip to Georgia. He and Mrs. Harris will visit the crypt of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. They will visit the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr King and Mr Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon for whom the legislation is named, have praised. Senator Raphael Warnock, the state’s first black senator and a Democrat running for a full term this year after a second-round victory, is a senior pastor there.
In the afternoon, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will address the Atlanta University Center Consortium, a consortium of four historically black colleges and universities. On Monday evening, the vice president’s office said Ms. Harris, who Biden had asked to lead the voting rights, “will reaffirm that securing the right to vote is essential to safeguard and strengthen our democracy” in her remarks.
Georgia, a state Mr Biden won with just 11,779 votes, has also seen some of the most sweeping attempts by Republicans to assert partisan power in elections, including restricting mail, mail, or advance voting. Critics say similar laws have spread across the country in response to false claims by former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters that the 2020 election has been rigged. Last week, observing the anniversary of the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol, Mr. Biden denounced these theories: “You cannot be a patriot when you embrace and allow lies. “
Some prominent activists are offering moderate support ahead of the president’s speech, angered by what they have called lack of attention as state-level restrictions take effect.
Representative Terri A. Sewell, Democrat of Alabama, who introduced the bill named after Mr. Lewis in August, said she was “pretty clear” about her expectations before agreeing to the bill. to travel to Atlanta with Mr. Biden and Mrs. Harris. She said she was assured the president would not only talk about the need for voting rights, but present a plan to get there that would include a change in Senate rules.
“It was Georgian voters who gave him the presidency and gave us the slim majority we have in the Senate,” Sewell said. “I know he knows we may have to do this on our own.”
Others refuse to attend. Stacey Abrams, a voting rights advocate and Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, will be unable to attend the speech due to a conflict, an aide to Ms Abrams said. The person declined to give details of the conflict.
A distinguished family will be present. Martin Luther King III, the eldest living son of the civil rights leader, and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, will meet Mr. Biden in Atlanta. Mr King said he would meet with the president and tell him that his visit to Georgia could only be a formality.
“We have seen what is possible when President Biden uses the full weight of his office to deliver bridges,” King said in a statement. “And now we have to see him do the same for voting rights. “
Nick corasaniti contributed to New York reporting.