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Biden, Harris push for voting rights legislation in Atlanta speeches

In resposne to Republican lawmakers' attempts across the country to restrict voting rights, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called for new federal legislation.

ATLANTA (CN) — In speeches in Atlanta Tuesday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called for changing Senate rules in order to push through voting rights legislation.

Such legislation has been stalled by Republicans, who have withheld debate by using the filibuster, the Senate rule that allows prolonged debate on legislation and requires 60 votes for closure on a debate topic.

In his speech at the Atlanta University Center Consortium Tuesday, Biden said filibusters have been "weaponized and abused."

“To protect our democracy I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of Senators from blocking action on voting rights," Biden said.

The 50-member Democratic majority has also been unable to reach agreement on how to change Senate rules so that the legislation can pass by a simple majority vote.

Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has declared Jan. 17 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — as the deadline to either pass two new voting rights bills or consider revising the filibuster rules.

Biden, called Atlanta the “cradle of civil rights” and said it was time tie pass the John Lews Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late U.S. representative and civil rights activist who hailed from the city.

Approved by the House in August, the Act would expand upon the 1965 Voting Rights Act and require locales where voting rights violations are prevalent — including Georgia — to be pre-cleared by the federal government before making any legal changes to voting practices.

The other major bill is the Freedom to Vote Act, which would make Election Day a public holiday, allow automatic and same-day registration, and create national standards for redistricting, early voting, voting by drop box and voting by mail.

Democrats and voting rights activists are urgently calling for the passage of this legislation in response to Republican attempts across the country to enact laws restricting the right to vote following former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

"The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American in every community of every political party," Vice President Kamala Harris said in her speech.

Georgia is one of 19 states that enacted dozens of laws that make it harder to vote between January and September 2021, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice.

After Georgia saw a record turnout and increase of registered Black and minority voters in both the November 2020 General Election and the January 2021 Senate runoff, Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed into law in March new restrictions on voting access, which President Biden referred to as “Jim Crow 2.0”

“They’re making it harder for you to vote by mail, the same way I might add that in the 2020 election, President Trump voted from behind his desk,” Biden said.

“The new Georgia law actually makes it illegal ... to bring your neighbors and fellow voters food or water while they wait in line to vote" he continued.

"That's not America. That's what it looks like when they suppress the right to vote.” he added.

A coalition of influential political activist groups in Georgia that boosted turnout in a state crucial Biden’s victory in 2020, refused to attend the speech out of frustration that the White House isn’t doing enough to handle the issue.

On Monday evening, Black Voters Matter, GALEAO Impact Fund, New Georgia Project Action Fund, Asian American Advocacy Fund, Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, and James Woodall, the Georgia NAACP president, announced they would “reject any visit by President Biden that does not include 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.”

“Those who made campaign promises to the Black community must use any means possible to ensure that this Congress gets it done. The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated. We are watching," NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a press statement in November.

Before the speeches Tuesday, Biden and Harris visited the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and laid a wreath at Dr. Martin Luther King’s crypt along with members of his family, including his son who was arrested outside of the White House in November while peacefully protesting for voting rights legislation. 

They also visited Ebenezer Baptist Church where King was ordained, joined by the church’s senior pastor, Senator Raphael Warnock, and a number of Black lawmakers from Georgia, including Representatives Sanford Bishop, Lucy McBath, Hank Johnson, Nikema Williams and former Atlanta Mayor and Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Protection Keisha Lance Bottoms. Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux and Senator Jon Ossoff were also in attendance.

Before departing the White House, President Biden said that Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, but they still “have a great relationship.”

"I thank @POTUS and @VP for returning to Georgia to continue their steadfast advocacy for passage of federal legislation to protect the freedom to vote. They made clear again today that they are committed to restoring the Senate to safeguard our democracy," Abrams said in a tweet Tuesday.

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