Protecting voting rights in America is important enough to abolish the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule to get it done, President Joe Biden said Tuesday during a speech in Atlanta.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to the campus of historically Black Atlanta University Center to drum up public support for two voting rights bills stalled in the Senate.
With every Republican senator opposing the measures in the evenly divided legislative chamber, neither can gain passage because of the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to take action.
“Filibusters have been weaponized and abused,” Biden said. “The majority should rule in the United States Senate.”
Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years, has long been a supporter of the filibuster rule, which historically has been used to ensure bipartisan support before legislation could win passage.
But he said protecting voting rights is too critical to worry about saving the filibuster.
“The right to vote is democracy’s threshold liberty,” he said. “Without it, nothing is possible.”
The Freedom to Vote Act, a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s voting rights laws, would set federal standards for elections, end partisan redistricting that tends to perpetuate parties in power in Congress and state legislatures, and reform campaign finance laws.
The more narrowly drawn John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the late Atlanta congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, would strengthen and restore portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings during the last decade.
Specifically, Biden and Harris criticized the overhaul of Georgia election laws the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed last year.
Senate Bill 202 adds a voter ID requirement for absentee ballots, restricts the location of absentee ballot drop boxes and prohibits non-poll workers from handing out food and drinks within 150 feet of voters standing in line.
Georgia’s was among 19 laws 34 states passed last year that Democrats say make it more difficult for Americans to vote, particularly voters of color.
Harris urged those in the audience not to be complacent about protecting voting rights.
“In the last few years, we have seen so many anti-voting laws there is danger of becoming accustomed to these laws, as if they are normal,” she said. “There is nothing normal about a law that makes it illegal to pass out water and food to people standing in a long election line.”
Georgia Republicans took exception Tuesday to the Democrats’ characterization of the state’s new election law and criticized the two bills before the U.S. Senate.
Gov. Brian Kemp accused Biden and congressional Democrats of attempting an “unconstitutional federal takeover of elections” that he vowed to oppose.
“Georgia is ground zero for the Biden-Harris assault on election integrity,” Kemp said during a news conference shortly before Biden and Harris spoke. “[But] we refuse to be bullied … into backing down.”
“The Biden administration continues to wage a shameless political attack on Georgia’s constitutional authority to regulate its elections,” state Attorney General Chris Carr added. “The truth is, our election law strengthens security, expands access and ensures transparency for all Georgians.”
Some voting rights groups in Georgia did not attend Tuesday’s presidential speech, urging Biden and Harris to stay away from Atlanta until they come up with a specific plan for moving the voting rights bills through Congress.
“We don’t need even more photo ops,” said Cliff Albright, cofounder of Black Voters Matter. “We need action.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.