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

A coalition of Georgia voting rights groups says President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris should skip traveling to Atlanta next week unless they come with a concrete plan to pass federal voting laws immediately.

The statement was signed by the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, the New Georgia Project Action Fund and the GALEO Impact Action Fund, an organization representing Latinos. The groups reference Biden’s win in Georgia, plus Democrats’ victories in the January runoffs that gave the party control of the U.S. Senate.

“Georgia voters made history and made their voices heard, overcoming obstacles, threats, and suppressive laws to deliver the White House and the US Senate,” the statement said. “In return, a visit has been forced on them, requiring them to accept political platitudes and repetitious, bland promises. Such an empty gesture, without concrete action, without signs of real, tangible work, is unacceptable.”

The White House announced Wednesday that both the president and vice president would visit Atlanta on Tuesday to talk about the importance of passing new voting and election standards. But such legislation has stalled in the Senate, with Republicans using the filibuster to block debate and a 50-member Democratic majority unable to reach agreement on how to change Senate rules so that the legislation can pass by a simple majority vote.

Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said this weekthat he will attempt to get a rules change passed by Jan. 17, which is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The White House did not have an immediate response to the criticism from the voting groups. Press Secretary Jen Psaki during her daily press briefing reiterated statements Biden said in the past about supporting a Senate rule change to get voting bills passed, which is a priority for him. But the administration has not shared its game plan for overcoming the hurdles that remain.

There are two bills these activists would like to see become law, especially ahead of the legislative session in states such as Georgia where Republicans could attempt to pass new laws that reduce access to the ballot or make it more difficult to vote.

One proposal, named for the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, would reinstate federal oversight before states and local governments that reach certain criteria are allowed to change voting or election laws. 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 statement from the voting rights groups says that they will “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.”

James Woodall, the former president of the Georgia NAACP, is among the signers of the statement. He said Biden and Harris are welcome to visit Atlanta, but what is really needed is that they work harder on Capitol Hill.

“The White House must respond to this current attack on democracy, and coming to Georgia for discussions is nice, but what we need is urgent action in D.C.,” he said. “We need to see the passage and signing of both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

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FULL STATEMENT

Georgia voters made history and made their voices heard, overcoming obstacles, threats, and suppressive laws to deliver the White House and the US Senate. In return, a visit has been forced on them, requiring them to accept political platitudes and repetitious, bland promises. Such an empty gesture, without concrete action, without signs of real, tangible work, is unacceptable. As civil rights leaders and advocates, we 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.

Georgia will not be used as a two-dimensional backdrop, a chess piece in someone else’s ineffectual political dealings. Georgia voters are more than just convenient props in a political image game. Georgians are fighting every day to protect our freedom to vote from unrelenting attacks. We are tired, but we persist in doing the work. In the past year alone, voters and advocates have fought an onslaught of devastating anti-voter proposals, 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 7 out of 8 polling places in Lincoln County — where over one-third of voters are Black. 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: 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.

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.

Black Voters Matter Fund

Asian American Advocacy Fund

James Woodall, former Georgia NAACP President

GALEO Impact Action Fund

New Georgia Project Action Fund