The Jolt: After another failure on voting rights, Democrats figure out what’s next

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Wednesday night marked another failure for Democrats looking to pass their federal voting rights bill, this time with two of their own siding with Republicans to keep the 60-vote filibuster intact.

The outcome wasn’t surprising, but it was still a blow to Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and President Joe Biden, who have prioritized federal election laws in recent weeks. With the filibuster still in place and no Republicans willing to side with Democrats to break it, this bill will not pass.

Democrats know that a large portion of their base, particularly Black voters in southern states like Georgia, want to see new federal voting standards. But they also must grapple with the reality that at least in the current climate, with a slim 50-vote majority and Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema unwilling to stand with the rest of the caucus, it won’t be done.

Look for a pivot in the coming days, as Biden begins his second year in office. He, and Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were all sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021. Biden said during a press conference Wednesday that he would be willing to break up his signature Build Back Better bill into smaller pieces, which could get Manchin’s approval and pass both chambers.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators is working on a separate election bill that will focus on the rules for counting electoral college votes. It’s rooted in an effort to avoid another Jan. 6-like debacle but could also include portions of the voting bills that Democrats also want.

Georgia, meanwhile, will remain at the center of discussion on voting rights. Schumer even gave both Georgia freshmen senators prime speaking slots during Wednesday evening’s debate.

Ossoff called out Republicans who voted to renew provisions of the Voting Rights Act in the past, but now oppose the latest election proposals. And he blasted them for speaking warmly of Congressman John Lewis while opposing the measure he championed so strongly it now bears his name.

“I speak for the state of Georgia when I say: do not invoke Congressman Lewis’ name to signal your virtue while you work to erode his legacy and defy his will,” Ossoff said.

Nearly every Senate Democrat and several Republicans were in their seats to hear Warnock warn that they cannot hide from history.

“I want to appeal to all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, not just as a colleague, but as a pastor and as a man of faith,” he said. “The American people have sent us here and history has summoned us to this moment. We cannot hide. Whatever the outcome tonight, I still believe in us. I believe in the U.S.”

By the way, Politico reports that Georgia U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams was among the Congressional Black Caucus members sat in the back of the Senate chamber during debate. Georgia Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux also said she went over to listen. We also spotted Reps. Sanford Bishop and Hank Johnson in a video of CBC lawmakers walking across the rotunda in a show of support for the bill prior to the vote.


Georgia House Speaker David Ralston announced a shakeup among the chamber’s committee leaders that also sidelines one of his rivals.

State Rep. Barry Fleming was dumped as leader of the Special Committee on Election Integrity, the panel that crafted last year’s controversial election overhaul law. In all, Ralston announced nine new committee leaders.

The move comes months after Fleming was defeated in a bid for a House leadership position that was seen as a proxy fight for the speaker’s control of the chamber.


Good news for lake lovers and anyone waiting for an Amazon shipment — U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath announced Wednesday that Georgia will receive nearly $74 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill funds for Army Corps of Engineers projects in the state.

The money will go to lake and dam maintenance around Georgia, sewer upgrades and other Corps priorities. The largest project on the list by far is the harbor expansion at the Port of Savannah, which has become the second busiest shipping port in the country and a key link in the country’s now famous supply chain.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in November after winning votes from all Democrats, but no Republicans, in the Georgia delegation.


In endorsement news:

  • CBCPAC, the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, has sided with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in her primary matchup against fellow incumbent Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.
  • The Georgia AFL-CIO and other union groups gave Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign their endorsements, which she accepted during a rare (for now) in-person campaign event Wednesday. Read about it here.
  • Eleven incumbent GOP U.S. senators have endorsed Herschel Walker’s bid to unseat Raphael Warnock, further evidence that he is the front-runner despite a crowded primary field. The latest is Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.
  • The Susan B. Anthony List announced its annual scorecard for its anti-abortion agenda. In a sign of the polarized times, the group gave every Republican in the Georgia delegation an “A+” and every Democrat an “F.”


Floyd Griffin, a former state legislator and mayor of Milledgeville, has joined the Democratic field running to unseat GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Griffin served as Milledgeville’s mayor from 2002 to 2006. He was a state senator in the 1990s but left his seat to run for lieutenant governor in 1998, a race that he lost.

Other Democrats in the secretary of state’s race include state Rep. Bee Nguyen, former Cobb County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Owens and John Eaves, former chairman of the Fulton County Commission. Meanwhile, candidates on the GOP side include Raffensperger, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.


Former state House Minority Leader Bob Trammell has joined the Georgia-based lobbying firm ConnectSouth. Trammell lost a re-election bid for his rural Georgia seat to Republican David Jenkins in 2020 after Republicans poured more than $1 million into the race to defeat him.


The January 6 Select Committee has issued a subpoena to Nicholas Fuentes, asking him to answer questions about his involvement planning events preceding the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Fuentes is a white nationalist and head of a far-right extremist group who was outside of the Capitol during the insurrection, although so far he hasn’t been accused of going inside.

He was also a key participant at the “stop the steal” rally at the Georgia Capitol following the election.


The Lincoln County Board of Elections delayed a vote scheduled for Wednesday night that could have closed six of the seven polling places in the county, WJBF-TV’s Deirnesa Jefferson reports.

The delay came after voting rights activists and local residents delivered a petition opposing the plan and voiced their objections. The Board adjourned just 30 minutes into the meeting without voting on the matter.

The election board in the rural county, including one recently added by Republicans after a change to state law, wants to close precincts it says are not heavily used and difficult to run. But activists worry how voters who want to cast ballots in person will get to a single polling location in a county that is 250-square-miles and lack access to public transportation or rideshare options.


We’re wishing the best to former Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce, who is hospitalized in Indiana following two strokes.

Cobb County Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, who defeated Boyce in 2020, released a statement Wednesday that she is anxiously awaiting updates on his condition and hoping for a full and speedy recovery. “My thoughts and prayers are with Chairman Boyce and his family during this difficult time.”


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