Abrams, who used her 2018 gubernatorial loss to Republican Brian Kemp to elevate voting rights as an issue and is running for governor again in 2022, has a scheduling conflict, a spokesperson told CNN.
And Biden, when asked about Abrams not attending the event as he left the White House to travel to Georgia, also cited a scheduling issue.
“I spoke to Stacey this morning. We have a great relationship,” the President said. “We got our scheduling mixed up.”
Biden and Abrams have long been close. When then-candidate Biden was looking for a running mate, the Georgia Democrat was among the small list of women he considered.
But the fact that arguably the Democratic Party’s most prominent voting rights advocate — someone who founded Fair Fight Action, an organization that advocates for voter protection across the country, after her 2018 defeat — won’t be at the President’s voting rights speech in her own state has struck some Democrats as questionable.
And Republicans have already jumped on Abrams not attending the Biden event.
“It is very interesting that Stacey Abrams has a conflict and can’t join him,” Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “I think we all know what that conflict is. It is Joe Biden’s terrible poll numbers.”
Abrams’ absence was made even more striking after several voting rights groups said they too will not attend the speech because they would like to see action on voting rights legislation, not another speech by the President.
“I think the time would be better spent for the president to go to the Senate, give a speech in the Senate and then make sure that they vote on legislation,” said Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, an organization that said they would not attend the event. “The work is not with our senators from Georgia that needs to happen. … The work is with the rest of the Senate and Joe Biden knows the Senate well.”
Gonzalez continued: “He should be working the Senate rather than coming to Georgia and talking to us about how urgent it is. We know on the ground how urgent it is.”
Abrams did welcome Biden with a tweet on Monday — “Thank you, @POTUS, for refusing to relent until the work is finished. Welcome back to Georgia where we get good done,” Abrams wrote — but she will be one of the only top Georgia Democrats not attending the speech.
Abrams announced her second gubernatorial run in December, a bid she centered on the fight for equality in Georgia, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and her work at a voting rights advocate.
Abrams’ entrance into the race largely cleared the field — her national name recognition, fundraising prowess and personal history seen as too much for another Democrat to challenge. This is a dramatic contrast to the Republican side, where the primary between Kemp, the incumbent who has drawn the ire of Donald Trump after the former president lost Georgia in 2020, and former Sen. David Perdue, who has embraced Trump’s attacks of Kemp, is expected to be heated and messy.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, who, like Abrams, is on the ballot in 2022, is traveling from Washington, DC, to Georgia aboard Air Force One with Biden, while the state’s other senator, Jon Ossoff, will attend events on the ground in the state.
Five of the state’s Democratic members of the House will also fly with Biden to Georgia, including Reps. Nikema Williams, Sanford Bishop, Lucy McBath, Carolyn Bourdeaux and Hank Johnson.
The coronavirus pandemic has also impacted the event, with a spokesperson for Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization Abrams founded, telling CNN that group has “temporarily suspended all in-person meetings and events due to Covid.”
While Fair Fight Action said they are “grateful for the White House continuing to discuss voting rights” and “look forward to President Biden and Vice President Harris demanding we must restore the Senate and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” they also “support the Georgia organizations who have been working tirelessly at the grassroots level and have clearly stated that they will not attend the President’s speech tomorrow.”
James Woodall, the state president of the Georgia NAACP, another organization that won’t be attending the Biden speech, said Abrams wasn’t attending because she “has an entire state to cover” while running for governor and “this trip was scheduled last minute, and I don’t believe it was communicated with anyone here on the state level until the last minute.”
Woodall said he would rather see Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the senators who are traveling with Biden to Georgia staying in Washington, DC, to actually pass voting rights legislation, not speaking about it in his home state.
“This is not us saying, ‘We don’t like him, we oppose him’ or any of those things. We are only demonstrating the urgency of what it takes to get this through,” Woodall said, arguing that it is time for Biden to stop using the presidential bully pulpit in states and instead use it with members of the Senate who are standing in the way.
“We’ve seen it before from this administration when it came to Build Back Better. We’ve seen it before when it came to infrastructure,” he concluded. “We need to see it with voting rights.”
With Biden’s Build Back Better plan largely stalled in the Senate, many in Washington have argued it is time for the administration to turn its focus to voting rights. That pressure has intensified in recent months as Republican-passed stricter voting laws go into place across the country.
The focus is currently on two measures — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — both of which would create national voting standards and restore aspects of the Voting Rights Act.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the voter suppression laws going into effect across the country were “driven by the big lie” that former President Donald Trump was the actual winner in 2020 and that “they are reflections of some of the darkest chapters in our history.” Georgia is one of the states Trump falsely claimed was stolen from him.