The Jolt: Senate may rethink its voting rights agenda after Warnock’s pleas

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
06/18/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Senator Raphael Warnock makes remarks during a COVID-19 vaccine mobilization rally at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, June 18, 2021.(Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

06/18/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Senator Raphael Warnock makes remarks during a COVID-19 vaccine mobilization rally at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, June 18, 2021.(Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock knows how to make a floor speech count.

His latest resonated beyond the Senate chamber, as Warnock described what he sees as the “moral hypocrisy” of colleagues who relaxed Senate rules to raise the debt ceiling while refusing to do the same for voting rights.

During the speech, Warnock said he heard from frustrated Georgia voters who want new election laws passed to offset the impact of the state’s restrictive new voting law. They don’t understand why Democrats can’t get it done.

Neither can he, the Atlanta Democrat said. In that floor speech Tuesday, along with remarks at a private caucus luncheon, Warnock said voting rights should become the top priority for Senate Democrats.

Advocacy groups applauded his effort, and so did other rank-and-file party leaders. Twenty state legislators from Georgia are among more than 200 elected officials who signed a letter encouraging the Senate to delay its holiday recess in order to pass voting legislation.

Democrats say federal laws are needed before legislatures return to work in many states in January, when Republican-controlled bodies could pass new laws that restrict access to the ballot.

Now, it looks like leaders in Washington also listened to Warnock – and may agree.

President Joe Biden suggested on Wednesday the Senate should look for ways to pass voting legislation quickly.

“If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it,” he told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “If we can’t, we got to keep going. There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights.”

There were even reports that the Senate may prioritize passing voting laws in the coming weeks while negotiations lag on Biden’s signature legislation, the $1.7 trillion social spending and climate change bill.

“I would like to see a Build Back Better dealt with as quickly as possible, but if we can’t deal with it right now it’s far more important that we deal with the voting rights issue,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who as chairman of the Budget Committee knows all too well the delays with the spending bill.

It would take all 50 Democrats to stay unified on any plan to change the rules, and that is where things get dicey. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday that any changes should be bipartisan, and no Republicans have been willing to circumvent procedures that allow them to hold up Democratic priorities.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema told Politico that she supports passing voting bills but not bending the rules to accomplish the goal.

“Senator Sinema has asked those who want to weaken or eliminate the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation, which she supports, if it would be good for our country to do so,” her spokesperson John LaBombard said.

***

The Associated Press reviewed every allegation of voter fraud in Georgia and five other states Joe Biden carried narrowly over Donald Trump. The conclusion: even if all 475 of these ballots were counted for Trump, they didn’t represent nearly enough votes to overturn the election.

Democrat Joe Biden won Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and their 79 Electoral College votes by a combined 311,257 votes out of 25.5 million ballots cast for president. The disputed ballots represent just 0.15% of his victory margin in those states.

The cases could not throw the outcome into question even if all the potentially fraudulent votes were for Biden, which they were not, and even if those ballots were actually counted, which in most cases they were not.

The review also showed no collusion intended to rig the voting. Virtually every case was based on an individual acting alone to cast additional ballots.

***

Two Georgia-based soldiers who were killed in action will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor from President Joe Biden at a White House ceremony today.

The AJC’s Jeremy Redmond will be bringing us a live dispatch later, but he has already previewed the event.

Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe was based at Ft. Benning when he deployed to Iraq. He died from his injuries after saving fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle. Sgt. First Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger stationed at Hunter Army Air Field near Savannah, was mortally wounded while protecting a helicopter carrying out a medical evacuation in Afghanistan.

***

When the governor’s office sends out a press release at 2:00 a.m., it’s either very good or very bad news.

It was good news early Thursday morning when Gov. Brian Kemp’s office released the report that Georgia has posted an all-time low unemployment rate of 2.8% this month.

That number does not account for the number of people who have dropped out of the workforce during the COVID pandemic, but does give a nice boost of good news for Kemp on the same day he’s expected to announced that Rivian, the electric car maker, will build a $5 billion plant east of Atlanta.

The development could create as many as 8,000 jobs in the once-sleepy stretch of Interstate 20 between Atlanta and Augusta and make a good news day even better.

***

Air Force veteran Chris West has joined the Republican race to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop.

West, a Thomasville native, focused his opening message on vows to combat illegal immigration, inflation rates and high gas prices.

Bishop’s southwest Georgia district was drawn more favorably for Republicans, potentially putting the territory in play despite it still carrying a slight Democratic majority. Bishop, who has served in Congress for 28 years, has downplayed talk that he could be vulnerable.

West recently met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, and is said to have locked up support from some key donors and activists in the district.

Still, Republicans are circling. West joins a group of candidates that includes Vivian Childs, a party activist; Wayne Johnson, a former student loan official in the Trump administration; and Tracy Taylor, chairwoman of the Dougherty County GOP.

“Southwest Georgia deserves a political outsider, job creator and problem solver who will push back against the overreach of the federal government, get our economy back on track, and deliver real results,” West said.

***

We’re sensing a trend.

U.S. Senate candidate Kelvin King is out with a campaign ad that blasts Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock for “supply chain issues, labor shortages and families struggling to keep up with the rising costs of groceries and gas.”

King, a military veteran, is one of four leading Republicans vying for the nomination. Watch the ad here.

***

End Citizens United, a group that supports an overhaul of campaign finance laws, has endorsed two statewide Democratic candidates.

The group backed state Sen. Jen Jordan’s bid for attorney general and state Rep. Bee Nguyen’s campaign for secretary of state.

The group, which played a key role in the 2018 midterm, plans to spend $7 million nationwide, including in Georgia, in key Attorney General and Secretary of State races during the 2022 cycle.

***

Attorney General Chris Carr teamed up with Gov. Brian Kemp for a fundraiser at the Omni Battery on Wednesday that raised roughly $175,000 for Carr’s reelection bid.

Carr will face a Democrat in the general election, but unlike Kemp he does not yet have a serious primary challenge in 2022.

***

In other endorsement news, Gwinnett School Board Chair Everton Blair is backing Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.

Blair is the first prominent local elected official to choose McBath over opponent Carolyn Bourdeaux, who represents most of the county now.

Bourdeaux has released a long list of local endorsers herself. McBath’s decision to challenge her in the Democratic primary after her own 6th District was drawn up much more conservative has left local party leaders pressured to choose sides.

***

An opponent of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is highlighting her ownership of stocks in companies that produced COVID-19 vaccines, pointing out that Greene is making money off the very shots she has criticized.

Republican Jennifer Strahan, who is challenging Greene in the primary for the 14th Congressional District, posted a poll on Twitter asking readers to choose which of three vaccine-producing companies Greene owns stock in: Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson.

The answer, according to Greene’s financial disclosures, is “all of the above.” The multi-millionaire congresswoman owns shares worth between $401 and $2,200 combined for the three companies.

Greene has criticized vaccine mandates and has also cast doubt on the usefulness of coronavirus vaccinations for healthy adults. She told a town hall last month that she is not vaccinated.

So, we asked her office if she sees anything wrong with also investing in these companies.

“Congresswoman Greene does not handle her investments,” her spokesman Nick Dyer said in a text message when asked about her ownership of the pharma stocks. “She has a third-party financial advisor who handles all her investments.”

***

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will tour the Port of Savannah on Friday to tout efforts to address speeding up the nation’s supply chain.

He will also use the visit as an opportunity to talk up the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden recently signed into law, which includes $17 billion for ports and waterways.

***

Georgia Congressman Drew Ferguson has teamed up with a Democratic colleague to form the bipartisan team relaunching the Congressional Creative Rights Caucus.

Ferguson, a Republican from West Point, will serve as co-chair alongside Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California. Both represent states where the music, film and entertainment industry is crucial to the economy.

“By working together, we will take steps to improve copyright protections that allow the film and television industry to continue creating jobs in my home state of Georgia and across America,” Ferguson said in a news release. “I’m confident that our collaboration will further the discussion and usher in a new era of the protection of creative rights that help bolster the 21st-century economy.”

***

Spotted at the Georgia State Capitol — former UGA football coach Vince Dooley, making what he calls the “off season” rounds to Capitol leaders on behalf of the Savannah-based Georgia Historical Society.

Dooley is the chairman emeritus of the Savannah-based non-profit, which has a distinguished fellows program named in his honor, and was with its president, Todd Groce.

***

As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and

greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

Sign Up to receive the Morning Jolt & AJC Politics newsletters in your inbox.