This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Jan. 10, 2022. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
President Joe Biden is set to visit Atlanta on Tuesday to deliver a major speech on the state of voting rights in the US, but his planned visit has gotten a chilly reception from Georgia advocates who say they’re sick of lofty rhetoric and no action from Democratic leaders.
In a joint statement ahead of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip, a coalition of advocacy groups including the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Georgia NAACP, and the Asian American Advocacy Fund said the president must bring with him “an announcement of a finalized voting rights plan that will pass both chambers, not be stopped by the filibuster, and be signed into law.”
“Anything less is insufficient and unwelcome,” the groups said. “We reject any political visit that does not also come with policy progress—with signs of clear work done, of something accomplished. We reject any visit that fails to begin with the question, ‘How does this serve the people of Georgia?’ It is time for final action on voting rights, and Georgians are waiting.”
The White House said last week that the Atlanta trip is aimed at spotlighting “the urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections.” In March 2021, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 202, a measure that—according to one expert—”targets Black voters with uncanny accuracy.”
The Biden Justice Department has since sued Georgia over the voter suppression law, one of dozens that Republican-led states enacted over the course of 2021. But the narrow Democratic majority in Congress has thus far failed to pass legislation to protect the franchise at the federal level and thwart the GOP’s intensifying assault on democracy.
In their statement, the coalition of Georgia-based advocacy groups noted that “in the past year alone, voters and advocates have fought an onslaught of devastating anti-voter proposals” in the state “and have organized in the aftermath of the passage of SB 202.”
“Right now, advocates and local leaders are fighting to stop the closure of seven out of eight polling places in Lincoln County—where over one-third of voters are Black,” the groups said. “Just next week, the state legislature will convene, with Republican leaders already proudly touting their plans to attack voting access, push to ban drop boxes, and erect new hurdles in the path of voters. And the voters and advocates in Georgia remain, ready to do the work to try and slow them down and stop them from taking away their freedom to vote.”
“So as President Biden and Vice President Harris plan their visit to Georgia, our message is simple,” they continued. “We have voted, we have advocated, and we have organized. We have done the work. Now, it is time for you to deliver, and for you to do the work. We need President Biden and Vice President Harris to demand we restore the Senate and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act NOW.”
While Biden has voiced support for legislative efforts to combat the torrent of Republican-authored voter suppression laws in states across the country, he has come under fire for failing to make adequate and savvy use of his bully pulpit to pressure holdout Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
According to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, some Georgia state Democrats are voicing similar frustrations in the lead-up to the president’s Tuesday visit.
“Georgians know the importance of voting rights and so do the senators we elected,” one unnamed Georgia state Democrat said, referring to US Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA). Warnock is up for reelection in this year’s midterms.
“Why the heck are [Biden and Harris] leaving Washington—where people need convincing to pass legislation—to come to Georgia where no one needs convincing?” the unnamed Democrat asked.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has set a deadline of Jan. 17 for the upper chamber’s Republicans to join Democrats in passing a substantive voting rights bill. If the GOP continues to obstruct by that date, Schumer said last week, Senate Democrats will “debate and consider changes to Senate rules.”
The problem for Democrats is that Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have both refused to support any changes to the 60-vote filibuster rule, the procedural tool Republicans have used to block three separate voting rights bills in recent months—including a compromise measure that Manchin helped craft.
Senate Democrats need the support of their entire caucus and a tie-breaking vote from Harris to eliminate or reform the filibuster.
Biden, for his part, expressed support last month for a filibuster “carve-out” that would exempt voting rights legislation from the typical 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
“Whatever it takes,” the president told ABC News. “Change the Senate rules… The only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster.”