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Biden confronts a skeptical base as he pushes voting rights in Georgia

Biden confronts a skeptical base as he pushes voting rights in Georgia
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You see Brown, she helped give the Democrats power, but a year later, she and other black voters were worse off when it came to their ability to vote. There is palpable frustration in her voice as she explains how voting rights still don’t seem like a priority for the administration.

“It makes the job more difficult for us,” Brown said. “What should I go back and tell people? …. How do I convince them to come back?”

Brown’s suspicions materialized in the political jungle Biden entered when he arrived in Atlanta on Tuesday to deliver his final speech on the need to protect democracy, pass electoral reforms and, if necessary, review Senate rules. After months of inaction, those who seek his help are growing suspicious of his ability to deliver.

A number of groups boycotted Biden’s speech. Nor did the state’s most well-known voting rights activist – governor candidate Stacey Abrams – appear, citing an unspecified scheduling conflict.

Biden’s speech, delivered at the Atlanta University Center Union on a brisk afternoon, served not only to serve the onslaught of state Republican voting laws that restrict access to polling, but to keep the very Democratic base that Brown says is disappointed and engaged.

The president, who served more than 30 years in the Senate that is now a thorn in his side, continued to fend off anti-democratic forces led by his predecessor. Describing himself as an “institutionalist”, he condemned the chamber in which he once served as a “shell of its former selves” and warned that “the threat to our democracy is so grave” that it calls for “getting rid of the stall” in the event of voting rights legislation unable to pass any way other.

Biden appealed to national lawmakers’ sense of history and reminded the public that he was “too old” to have been alive and began college in 1963 when Fanny Lou Hammer was pulled off a bus, imprisoned and beaten, after voter registration in Mississippi. He asked lawmakers nationally and state how they wanted to be remembered as they faced the same questions as their predecessors, whether it was in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday in Selma or during Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It seemed, at times, as if Biden He was asking the question to himself.

“I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered? Later moments in history, they represent a choice,” Biden said. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Want to be alongside John Lewis or Paul Connor? Want to be alongside Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment when we decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”

Those who came to watch Biden speak said they were excited to hear him and Vice President Kamala Harris make their case. In interviews with dozens of attendees, including organizers, city council members, students and civil rights leaders, two things were repeated: Biden’s desire to develop a plan to pass the bills before the Senate, and an unabashed, persistent and vocal desire. Agree to change or remove the opt-out.

“I wish they had done it sooner, but I’m glad they did now,” said Melanie Campbell, who joined a virtual meeting with White House officials and other civil rights leaders last week. Campbell and other prominent black organizers have asked Harris and Biden to come to Georgia.

Some in attendance argued that Biden was not the obstacle. “We should all remember that Roosevelt and Lyand Johnson had large majorities in Congress. Neil Mikheja, executive director of the national civic organization in South Asia, IMPACT, who attended the Atlanta speech, said.

But, for others, the suspicion was not far from the surface. Gerald Riggs, a member of the NAACP in Atlanta, delivered a similar warning to Brown when he mingled with other local regulators, elected officials and workers who were waiting for BIden.

“We rallied a lot of people to the polls with the promise of passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, neither of which has been changed,” Riggs said. So I speak for all the activists I mobilized and the voters we mobilized. They want to hear about it. No more excuses.”

The White House has repeatedly defended Biden’s sequencing agenda, noting that he entered the Oval Office at an unprecedented time with a global pandemic and Americans suffering an economic slowdown. Aides also point to attacks on democracy and the protection of voting rights as the reason Biden launched his campaign while arguing that Biden was not shy about the threats facing the country.

Biden’s speech came two days after the new session of the Georgia state legislature as Republicans sought to expand the scope of a bill they passed last year that was spurred by former President Donald Trump’s lies about stolen elections. This time around, some Republicans are pushing for action to ban absentee ballots altogether.

On Tuesday morning, inside the Georgia state house, Secretary of State Brad Ravensberger, a Republican, outlined his own proposals for federal election legislation — which include amending the Constitution to require “citizens voting only” and voter identity laws — while accusing Biden of lobbying for “federal election control.” Bauki Fu, a Republican who was fired from the DeKalb County Board of Elections and has been criticized by his local party for opposing his party’s restrictive election laws, said he supports the Ravensberger re-election bid. But he also remains concerned about the voting bills passed in Georgia last year.

“This is a deliberate, step-by-step attempt to undermine the institutions of democracy itself,” Fu said of the dynamic in Georgia and across the country. “That’s why I think it’s so important for people to focus on what can be done at the federal level.”

While some Georgia Democrats were pleased to see the president highlight those laws, others were curious as to why Biden was not elsewhere. Among the dozens of local Georgia Democrats who chose not to attend on Tuesday was Eric Allen, the running mate and head of the Cobb County delegation at State House.

“I think it appropriate to make this your first stop to honor the legacy of John Lewis’ work, considering this is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act they’re trying to pass,” Allen said. But I think there are other places that should hear this message to put pressure on senators to get it done. Georgia gave him a majority in the Senate. So we did everything we could do about it.”

“If you’re going to Georgia, you also have to announce that the next time you hit Air Force One’s tires, you’ll be in Arizona and then West Virginia,” Allen continued, referring to the home states. Among the Senate Democrats most resistant to changing the disruption rules are Kirsten Senema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (DW.Va.)

But it wasn’t just Biden’s presence but Abrams’ absence that caused such a stir at Tuesday’s event. On line at security, a number of city council members and local Democratic officials questioned aloud to each other why the Georgia governor’s candidate had not attended.

“The news was everywhere,” said one woman.

Abrams later released a statement highlighting that she and Biden had phoned in the morning and had a conversation that “reaffirmed” their “shared commitment to the American project of freedom and democracy.”

For activists watching, talking about who or who didn’t turn up was a distraction, after all, from the big question: What happens next? Derek Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, praised Biden for his “strong words” but said he “did not prioritize protecting voting rights in the same way he prioritized other policy issues such as the BBB, the infrastructure bill or Covid Relief.” It is time, he said, for the president to reset the focus.

“Using a bully pulpit is something every president uses to build momentum for policy initiatives. But he did it today. But until we actually have a bill on his desk, ready to be signed, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

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