News Update

Biden to amp up the pressure on the Senate to change filibuster rules for voting rights during Atlanta speech

Biden will travel to Georgia alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he appointed to lead the administration’s work on voting rights. While in Atlanta, the pair will also lay a wreath at the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and visit Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, according to the White House. Changing the filibuster rules in the Senate, which require 60 votes to end debate on legislation, is set to be a major focus of the day — and Biden’s address specifically.
“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand,” Biden will say, according to an excerpt of his remarks released by the White House. “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?”
The President’s speech in Atlanta is the latest in his recurring calls for the nation’s voting rights to be bolstered. Throughout the first year of his presidency, Biden has devoted several speeches to voting rights, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the centenary of the race massacre in that city; South Carolina State University’s graduation ceremony; at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington and at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
During his speech in Georgia, which will take place on the grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, Biden “will forcefully advocate for protecting the most bedrock American right: The right to vote and have your voice counted in a free, fair and secure election that is not tainted by partisan manipulation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
“He’ll make clear in the former district of (the late Rep. John Lewis) that the only way to do that is for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” she added.
In his speech, Psaki said, Biden will “describe this as one of the rare moments in a country’s history when time stops and the essential is immediately ripped away from the trivial. And that we have to ensure January 6 doesn’t mark the end of democracy but the renaissance for our democracy, where we stand up for the right to vote and have that vote counted fairly, not undermined by partisans afraid of who you voted for or try to reverse an outcome.”
Without changing the filibuster rules, it’s unclear how either bill Biden wants passed will get done. During the Atlanta remarks, Biden is expected to bring up changing the rules. He has previously expressed his support for making an exception to the filibuster rules in order to pass voting rights legislation.
A White House official said that changing the filibuster rules in order to get voting rights legislation passed is necessary to make sure “this basic right is defended.”
“Because abuse of what was once a rarely used mechanism that is not in the Constitution has injured the body enormously, and its use to protect extreme attacks on the most basic constitutional right is abhorrent,” the official said.
The Senate is expected to take up voting rights in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set a deadline of January 17 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — for the Senate to vote on a rules change if Republicans continue to block voting rights legislation.
Biden, during Tuesday’s speech, also plans to describe in detail what some states’ new laws are doing that restricts access to voting.
“He’s quite focused on ensuring the American people understand what’s at stake here. Sometimes we’re all shorthand legislation, shorthand what we’re talking about,” Psaki said. “Protecting the fundamental right to vote means he’s also going to talk about what the changes have meant in states like Georgia across the country.”
His visit to the Peach State, which takes places less than a week before MLK Jr. Day, comes amid pressure by advocates calling on Biden to spell out more clearly a pathway to the passage of the voting rights bills.
A number of voting rights groups issued a letter saying Biden and Harris should not visit Atlanta without a concrete plan to pass voting rights bills into law immediately. On Monday, a coalition of voting rights groups in Georgia announced they will not be attending events surrounding Biden’s visit.
“We don’t need another speech. What we need is a plan,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told reporters on Monday. “We won’t be attending the speech that the President is giving tomorrow.”
It’s unclear if prominent Georgia leader Stacey Abrams — arguably the Democratic Party’s preeminent voting rights advocate after using her 2018 gubernatorial loss to Republican Brian Kemp to elevate the issue — will attend. After the election, Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organization that advocates for voter protection across the country, and she’s running for governor again this year.
Biden discussed voting rights during his address last week to recognize the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol building, saying that former President Donald Trump and Republican allies are trying to subvert America’s elections.
“Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written — not to protect the vote, but to deny it; not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it; not to strengthen or protect our democracy, but because the former President lost,” Biden said last week.
“Instead of looking at the election results from 2020 and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes, the former President and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections,” Biden said. “It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic. And frankly, it’s un-American.”
The President said later in the speech that “we have to be firm, resolute, and unyielding in our defense of the right to vote and to have that vote counted.”
Republicans aligned with Trump in several states are pressing ahead at the state level to change voting procedures, conduct partisan investigations of the last presidential contest and seize more control over the machinery of elections.
The President plans to use Georgia as an example of these states, the White House official said.
In his speech, Biden will highlight “that after Georgians decisively voted for new leadership in 2020, Republicans in the legislature decided that they could not win on the merits of their ideas and instead passed a voter suppression law that targeted mail-in voting, limited precincts in areas that didn’t vote the way they wanted, and empowered partisans in the state legislature to manipulate local boards of election,” the official said.
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