President Biden will deliver a speech in Atlanta next week on the urgency of passing voting rights bills as Senate Republicans block legislation and GOP-led states rush to impose new limits that would restrict ballot access.
Vice President Harris, who has been the administration’s point person on voting rights, will join the president.
Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists have called on Biden to prioritize voting rights since he entered office, citing concerns that Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have attempted to pass more restrictive laws.
Georgia’s GOP-led legislature last year passed a new law that among other things shrinks the window for voters to request mail ballots and limits the number of voting drop boxes.
Biden narrowly won Georgia in 2020 and the state is crucial to Democratic political hopes this year, with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) facing reelection and Stacey Abrams, who has worked to boost voter turnout, making another bid for governor.
State Republicans have pressed ahead on passing those laws while echoing former president Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
In the U.S. Senate, two bills — the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — remain stalled as Republicans have been nearly unified in opposing the measures.
The John Lewis bill seeks to empower the Justice Department and federal courts to review state election laws — in some cases, before they take effect — restoring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that have been struck down by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions since 2013.
The other measure would make it easier to vote, mandating national minimum standards for early voting and vote-by-mail, and establishing Election Day as a national holiday.
“There’s no question, objectively, Republicans have not once, but four times obstructed basic legislation that should not be partisan, but is about upholding our Constitution, as they simultaneously attack the most fundamental American right: the right to vote,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
Last month, Biden decried the efforts to limit ballot access and vowed to push for passage of the measures ahead of midterm elections.
“I’ve never seen anything like the unrelenting assault on the right to vote. Never,” Biden said at South Carolina State University’s 2021 fall commencement ceremony. He added that the “this battle is not over. We’re going to keep up the fight until we get it done and you’re going to keep up the fight and we need your help badly.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told colleagues Monday that the chamber would vote no later than the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Jan. 17, on changing Senate rules if Republicans continue to block voting rights legislation.
The announcement of the planned deadline represented Schumer’s strongest endorsement yet of trying to muscle through legislation that has been stymied because of Senate rules requiring a 60-vote threshold.
Biden has faced pressure to support scrapping the filibuster rule. However, two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — have resisted efforts to modify or eliminate the 60-vote requirement.
Psaki said Wednesday that Biden, who served as a senator from Delaware for 36 years and is a proponent of the institution, wants to see the Senate function under its own rules but is open to modifications.
“This is reflective of the fact that while he is a creature of the Senate and somebody who respects the history of the Senate, he wants the Senate to function and he wants to move toward and is open to rules changes that will help the Senate function,” she said.