Democrats have seized on Georgia’s new voting restrictions to focus attention on the fight to reform federal election laws, setting up a slow-building showdown that echoes the civil rights battles of half a century ago.
In fiery speeches, direct statements and tweets, party leaders on Friday condemned the law signed the previous day by the state’s Republican governor as specifically aimed at stifling black and Latino votes and a threat to democracy. President Joe Biden issued an extended statement, calling the law an attack on “good conscience” that denies the right to vote for “countless” Americans.
“This is Jim Crow in the 21st century,” Biden said, referring to last century laws that imposed heavy-handed racial segregation in the South.
“Must end. We have a moral and constitutional obligation to act, ”he said. He told reporters that the Georgia law is an “atrocity” and that the Justice Department is investigating it.
Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp responded, accusing Biden of attempting to “destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box” by supporting what the governor sees as federal meddling with state responsibilities.
Behind the chorus of outrage, Democrats are also struggling with the limits of their power in Washington, provided that obstructionist Senate rules allow Republicans to block important laws, including HR 1, a broad election bill now pending. in the Senate.
Biden and his party are seeking to build and maintain momentum in the realm of public opinion, hoping to nationalize what has so far been a state-by-state, Republican-led movement to curb access to the ballot, as they begin. a slow, slow legislative process. Meanwhile, the allies plan to fight Georgia law and others in court.
“What is happening in Georgia right now underscores the importance and urgency,” Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, said in an interview Friday.
“It’s about what’s critical to our identity as the American people: one person, one vote.”
The emerging fight over voting access politics and politics is growing like nothing seen in recent years, dating back to what many Americans may assume are well-established rules that guarantee equal access to the ballot.
But as Republican-controlled state legislatures from Georgia to Iowa to Arizona are taking dramatic steps to limit early voting and force new voter identification requirements, the debate in Washington threatens to exacerbate the nation’s cavernous political divisions in the early days of Biden’s presidency, simply as the Democratic president vows to unite the country.
It’s expected to be a months-long job in tightly divided Congress, specifically in the Senate, where Democrats, for now, are unwilling to force their slim majority to change the obstructionist rules, despite urgent calls to action from the match.
Instead, Democrats are poised to legislate the old-fashioned way, sparking arguments in lengthy Senate debates, walking out of committee courtrooms and into the Senate, and forcing opponents to declare that they are getting in the way, much as South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond positioned himself when he filibustered the Civil Rights Act of the last century.
“They are literally squeezing the arteries of America’s lifeblood,” Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., the son of civil rights activists, said in an interview. “They are suffocating what makes us different and unique on planet Earth.”
Booker, however, would not openly call for an end to filibuster, a parliamentary tool that requires at least 60 votes to advance Senate legislation in some cases.
On Friday, the president revived his call for Congress to enact HR 1, an electoral reform that would face Republican restrictions. He also called for the John Lewis Voting Rights Promotion Act, which would restore some aspects of a landmark law repealed by the Supreme Court in 2013.
But Biden, like a shrinking number of other powerful Democrats, remains unwilling to embrace the so-called “nuclear option” – ending filibuster – for fear it would further divide the country.
Meanwhile, the political struggle was intensifying in Georgia, where years of voter registration drives in black communities and constant population changes helped Biden win the once solidly red state.
Just as Kemp and several white state legislators celebrated the signing of the state’s new voting law Thursday, state police officers handcuffed and forcibly removed State Representative Park Cannon, a black woman, after she called the door of the governor’s private office.
Cannon was charged with obstruction of law enforcement and tampering with the General Assembly, both felonies. She was released from jail on Thursday night. Donald Trump, the former president who promoted false accusations of voter fraud, congratulated the governor of Georgia and state leaders on the new law.
As Congress gears up for the fight, a wave of outside efforts is spending millions trying to sway the debate and apply political pressure on voters, corporations, and lawmakers from both parties.
A $ 30 million ad campaign comes from the liberal group, End Citizens United, which works with former Attorney General Eric Holder’s anti-gerrymandering group, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, trying to persuade considerate Democratic and Republican senators. undecided votes.
Other efforts are also underway, including those of former first lady Michelle Obama, through the nonpartisan celebrity organization “When We All Vote.”
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton said Friday that he is working with religious leaders in West Virginia and Arizona to lobby Democratic senators from the home state. He is well aware that this fight can go on for a while.
“I am prepared to continue in this fight for as long as it takes,” he said. “Look how long it took us to get the right to vote.”
Sharpton also suggested that black voters have become enthusiastic about the debate, which could lead to an increase in turnout in next year’s midterm elections despite new voting requirements enacted by Republicans.
“By being so cheeky, I think they play into our national strategy,” Sharpton said. “We just need the Democrats in the Senate to stand up.”
Georgia law requires photo identification to vote absentee by mail, reduces the time people have to request an absentee ballot, and limits where and when polls can be placed. The bill was a watered-down version of some of the proposals considered by the General Assembly led by the Republican Party.
HR 1 is vast, and its Senate counterpart would face Georgia’s new law by expanding voting by mail and early voting, both popular during the pandemic. It would open up access to ballots more widely by creating an automatic voter registry across the country, allowing ex-offenders to vote and limiting how states can remove registered voters from the rolls. He also handles campaign finance and ethics laws.
Still, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, warned that his party would take Republicans to court “and fight for it there.” A lawsuit filed Thursday night in United States District Court in Atlanta by three groups – New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise – challenged key provisions of Georgia’s new law and said they violated the Georgia Law. Electoral Rights.
But Harrison also acknowledged that the filibuster was an “obstacle” to efforts by national Democrats to reverse the Republican-backed changes.
“I’m getting the message across to everyone, particularly on my side of the aisle, that people right now are very, very upset about the way things are going,” Harrison told the AP.
The president continued: “I am going to do everything in my power, with every breath in my body, with every drop of blood that flows through my veins, to make sure I fight this.”
“We are not going back to Jim Crow 2.0,” he said. “So we have to do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Peoples reported from New York. Mascaro reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Bill Barrow, Josh Boak and Aamer Madhani contributed.