Atlanta landmarks to serve as backdrop as Biden, Harris discuss voting legislation

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Atlanta on Tuesday to talk about the need for voting legislation now before Congress. (Drew Angerer/Pool/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Atlanta on Tuesday to talk about the need for voting legislation now before Congress. (Drew Angerer/Pool/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Before delivering what has been billed as landmark speeches on the importance of passing federal voting legislation, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will tour Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and lay a wreath at the crypts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta.

A delegation of U.S. senators, including Georgia’s Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, is also expected to attend.

The president and vice president’s visit, including the remarks they will deliver on the campus of historically Black universities, is packed with symbolism. But voting rights groups that have been active in Georgia worry that Biden and Harris are focused too much on the optics and not enough on getting the job done.

These groups, which include Black Voters Matter and the New Georgia Project Action Fund, have not gone so far as to encourage a boycott or protests on Tuesday. But they have said that Biden and Harris should focus on getting election bills passed in Washington and not on grand gestures in states such as Georgia where the Republican-led General Assembly could pass more laws to make voting harder during the legislative session that began Monday.

Bernice King, chief executive at the King Center founded by her mother to honor her father’s legacy of nonviolence, will accompany the president and vice president. She said she is also frustrated by the lack of progress on federal legislation but says both the politicians and the activists must remain engaged.

“Just as my father went to the White House with (President Lyndon B.) Johnson and then went to the streets in Selma, Alabama, I’m with the whole process,” she said.

Georgia NAACP President Barbara Pierce said her organization did not sign onto the statement from the other civil rights groups, but she echoes their calls for Biden and Harris to focus on getting laws passed in Washington.

“At the same time, we welcome them to Georgia if they’re going to bring us some support of what our goals are,” Pierce said.

One bill that Biden and Harris will champion is named for the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who called Atlanta home. It would reinstate federal oversight of changes in election laws in states and municipalities that meet certain criteria. The other would make Election Day a holiday, limit voter purges, allow people to register to vote and cast a ballot the same day, and create national standards for redistricting, early voting, drop boxes and voting by mail.

The nation’s leaders “will speak to the American people about the urgent need to pass legislation to protect the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections,” the White House said in a release ahead of Biden and Harris’ visit.

There are two primary roadblocks to getting bills passed. One is the opposition from Senate Republicans who have used the 60-vote filibuster rules to block action. The other factor is the reluctance of Democratic U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to change Senate rules that would allow Democrats to pass the bills without Republicans’ support.

It is unclear whether either Biden or Harris will directly address these realities or provide a road map for how to overcome them.

African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Reginald Jackson, who oversees congregations in Georgia, said he will be listening for Biden and Harris to acknowledge the work faith leaders and activists have been doing to protect the right to vote and commit to matching those efforts.

“Having mobilized hundreds of thousands of voters in 2020 in Georgia, we need to see the president and vice president show immediate urgency, passion and unequivocal support for voting rights — including dismantling the filibuster if needed,” he said. “Our very democracy is at stake, and it’s imperative the White House starts understanding this fact and moves quickly to get this done.”

Staff writer Ernie Suggs contributed to this article.

ExploreDon’t come to Atlanta without a plan to pass voting laws, groups tell Biden, Harris

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