Biden dismisses split with Stacey Abrams as she skips voting rights event

Citing scheduling conflict, Georgia’s most-prominent voting rights advocate won’t attend president’s remarks on ‘turning point’ in American democracy

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 11 January 2022 17:44
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Voting rights advocates urge Biden to press Senate on filibuster

As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris prepare to deliver remarks from Georgia taking aim at state-level legislation undermining the right to vote, the state’s most-prominent voting rights advocate and several civil rights groups will not be in attendance.

Stacey Abrams, a high-profile advocate for voting rights protections and a Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, is not expected to attend, citing a scheduling conflict, though she has welcomed the president to the state in a message on Twitter.

“We have a great relationship. We got our scheduling mixed up ... We're all on the same page,” Mr Biden told reporters on 11 January, adding that “everything is fine” between Ms Abrams and the president.

But a coalition of voting rights groups have urged the president and vice president to skip their visit to the state without a concrete plan to guarantee passage of critical federal legislation to combat a wave of state-level election laws that restrict ballot access and consolidate electoral oversight into Republican-controlled legislatures.

In a joint statement to The Independent last week, the groups argued that the state’s voters “made history and made their voices heard, overcoming obstacles, threats, and suppressive laws to deliver the White House and the US Senate,” pointing to the election of two Democratic senators and Mr Biden’s victory against Donald Trump in the state.

“In return, a visit has been forced on them, requiring them to accept political platitudes and repetitious, bland promises,” they said. “Such an empty gesture, without concrete action, without signs of real, tangible work, is unacceptable.”

The groups – which include Black Voters Matter Fund, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, the New Georgia Project Action Fund and the GALEO Impact Action Fund – “reject any visit by President Biden” that doesn’t include a plan to amend filibuster rules in the Senate, where Republicans have repeatedly blocked voting rights legislation from debate.

Voting rights advocates Martin Luther King Jr III and Arndrea King will meet with the president before his remarks to stress that his visit “cannot be a mere formality.”

“We also support the Georgia groups who have decided not to attend the president’s speech today – they are frustrated after a year of inaction and we are too,” Mr King Jr said in a statement. “We’re in communication with them and stand in solidarity to ensure voting rights get done.”

The Independent has requested comment from Ms Abrams.

Mr Biden is expected to announce his support for a “carve out” for filibuster rules in the Senate in his remarks.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to change the Senate’s filibuster rules on or before 17 January, Martin Luther King Jr Day, if Republicans once again obstruct a vote to bring such legislation to the floor.

The president also will defend “the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections from corrupt attempts to strip law-abiding citizens of their fundamental freedoms and allow partisan state officials to undermine vote counting processes”, according to the White House.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation,” according to an excerpt of the president’s prepared remarks.

“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice?” he is expected to say. “I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?”

His remarks follow his most forceful condemnation yet of the tidal wave of GOP bills to restrict voter turnout and assume unprecedented power over election administration, including how votes are counted.

But his remarks on 6 January – marking the anniversary of the attack on the US Capitol, fuelled by the same baseless “stolen election” narrative inspiring state-level legislation – were not his first addressing the GOP’s campaign.

He condemned the wave of “election subversion” and Donald Trump’s “big lie” in a major speech in July. In the following months, the administration would be tied up in negotiations over his domestic agenda in Congress and efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We would rather the president stay in DC and deliver this speech to the Senate,” Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright told CNN on Tuesday.

“We don’t need another speech,” he said. “We don’t need him to come to Georgia and use us as a prop. What we need is work.”

Republican state lawmakers have passed at least 32 new laws in 17 states to change the rules of election administration and strip oversight from election officials.

GOP legislators filed at least 262 such bills in 41 states in 2021 alone, and more are expected as legislative sessions resume in 2022, according to States United Democracy Center.

A parallel effort saw the passage of at least 24 laws in 19 states restricting ballot access, after GOP legislators filed more than 440 bills in 49 states last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

More than a dozen bills restricting ballot access have been pre-filed ahead of 2022 legislative sessions in four states, and at least 88 bills in nine states will carry over from 2021 sessions.

In Georgia, that includes passage of Senate Bill 202, the subject of a lawsuit from the US Department of Justice for alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act.

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