President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are scheduled to be in Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon to deliver speeches widely described as expressing the urgency for passing voting rights legislation ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
However, some of the leading voices who have long sounded the alarm about the need for Congress to advance any bills on voting rights will not be in attendance Tuesday, suggesting they are not in allegiance with related efforts from Biden’s administration.
So, why exactly are the nation’s top voting rights advocates skipping an event with national election implications that is happening in their own backyard? The answers may surprise you.
Errin Haines, the editor-at-large of the 19th, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering the intersection of gender, politics and policy, broke the news Monday night that a “coalition of Georgia voting rights groups is skipping Biden-Harris trip to Atlanta” in part because the Biden Administration is seemingly reacting way too late to an issue that advocates unsuccessfully sought to bring to the forefront months ago.
The groups suggested that the speeches from Biden and Harris was politics as usual instead of officials rolling up their sleeves and working to secure voting rights in states that have passed restrictive — some say “racist” — election laws that make it harder to cast ballots; an effort that started immediately after Georgia’s electoral votes secured the presidency for Biden in 2020.
“Georgia voters are facing attacks on all fronts, and there is not time during these fights to attend a speech and meet to reiterate the seriousness of this moment,” Haines quoted the colation as saying.
Black Voters Matter, among the most prominent of voting rights groups that said it would not attend the event on Tuesday, offered a strong condemnation of the purported political posturing and suggested the speeches were tantamount to a dereliction of duty.
“Instead of giving a speech tomorrow, the U.S. Senate should be voting tomorrow,” Haines quoted Black Voters Matter as saying in a nod to monthslong unanswered calls for the Congress to advance the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright put it a bit more bluntly during an interview on CNN on Tuesday morning: “We don’t need another speech. What we need is work.”
Abrams — a candidate for Georgia governor and a decided member of the democratic establishment — did not offer any such criticism of the Biden Administration’s efforts to pass voting rights legislation. Instead, she said she would not attend Tuesday’s event because of a scheduling conflict. She took a decidedly different tack from the coalition of voting rights groups and suggested that any effort to combat restrictive election laws is a step in the right direction, no matter when it happens.
“The fight for voting rights takes persistence,” Abrams tweeted before quoting Martin Luther King to underscore the urgency of the moment and movement for fair voting rights: “The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now before it is too late.”
Abrams then thanked Biden “for refusing to relent until the work is finished” and welcomed him back to Georgia, “where we get good done.”
While the aforementioned folks will not be at Biden’s speech, other notable figures like former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — who will fly to Atlanta with the president on Air Force One on Tuesday — and Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are expected to be present along with other local and national elected officials, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Speaking at South Carolina State University’s commencement, a fired-up Biden talked about how a once bipartisan process has become a contentious, polarizing battle.
“I’ve never seen anything like the unrelenting assault on the right to vote,” Biden said. “Folks, I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for a long time. At the end of my stint, before I became Vice President, I was able to pass the extension of the Voting Rights Act for 25 years — and guess what? — and convinced Strom Thurmond of South Carolina to vote for it.”
Biden has been reluctant to heed calls to pressure the Senate regarding the filibuster. But it seems the president may finally be ready to move past his nostalgia of a long-gone era of bipartisan support for something as simple as the right to vote.
For its part, the Senate has been unable to even discuss voting rights legislation due to the filibuster, which is widely criticized as a relic of Jim Crow. Republicans have refused to engage in the conversation as their counterparts at the state level enact legislation in rapid succession to dilute the voting power displayed in the 2020 election cycle.
There is still hope to pass the voting rights legislation, if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has anything to do with it.
The Democratic Senator from New York said last week that he’s targeting adjusting or changing the filibuster rule during a scheduled vote next week on voting rights legislation.
Without explicitly using the “F” word, Schumer wrote in a letter to his fellow Senators that it was time for Democrats to take action:
“We must ask ourselves: if the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the State level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same?”