With Legislation Stalled, Biden Will Speak in Atlanta on Voting Rights

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WASHINGTON — President Biden will deliver a speech in Atlanta next week that will focus on the urgency of passing voting rights legislation and will condemn a swath of state-level efforts to limit access to the ballot box as an attack on fundamental constitutional rights, the White House announced on Wednesday.

Mr. Biden’s speech, scheduled for Tuesday, comes as his party’s push for legislation has faltered. His remarks will focus on the urgency of passing federal legislation to shield against “corrupt attempts to strip law-abiding citizens of their fundamental freedoms and allow partisan state officials to undermine vote counting processes,” the White House said in a statement. He will be joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, who has led the administration’s efforts on voting rights and will also give remarks.

Mr. Biden has been under pressure to further address an issue he has framed as an integral promise of his presidency. Democrats’ voting rights bills have stalled in the Senate, where Republicans have blocked them using the filibuster.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has set a deadline of Jan. 17 for Republicans to drop their opposition or face a potential vote to change the filibuster rules, but two centrist Democrats have resisted any attempt to muscle through a rules change, leaving their party short of the votes necessary to do so.

The speech by Mr. Biden, a Senate institutionalist who served in the chamber for 36 years, could provide a window into his broader strategy to push forward the legislation, which Democrats say is essential to beating back a host of restrictive policies put in place by Republican-led statehouses around the country.

“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 towards and is open to rules changes that will help the Senate function,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday.

Since taking office, Mr. Biden has been questioned repeatedly about his support for changing the filibuster rules, which would allow voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority rather than needing 60 votes. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, has promised a “scorched-earth” response should Democrats attempt to make that change, and Mr. Biden had until recent weeks been reluctant to throw his support behind such an approach.

In December, Mr. Biden said in an interview with ABC News that he would support making an exception “if the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster,” though his advisers have stressed that he still believes it may not have to come to that.

Senate Democrats have recently intensified their efforts to push forward on two pieces of stalled voting rights legislation. One bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, would create nationwide standards for mail-in and early voting, among other provisions. Another, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would restore crucial components of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark law that was stripped of its key anti-discrimination enforcement mechanisms in 2013.

Taken together, the two bills would “completely turn things around: the voter suppression measures and the schemes to sabotage election outcomes,” said Wendy R. Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

In a letter to his colleagues on Monday that referred to the attack on the Capitol a year ago, Mr. Schumer wrote that “what happened on Jan. 6 and the one-sided, partisan actions being taken by Republican-led state legislatures across the country are directly linked, and we can and must take strong action to stop this antidemocratic march.”

Republicans, in turn, have argued that Democrats are using the voting rights legislation to try to gain partisan advantage by seeking to impose their own preferred rules on states that have long regulated their own elections. “They want to nationalize elections,” Mr. McConnell said recently.

Though the White House has not specified where Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will be speaking in Atlanta, the choice of Georgia is hardly coincidental: In the 2020 presidential election, the state was decided by fewer than 13,000 votes.

In the past year, Georgia has seen some of the most sweeping attempts by Republicans to restrict access to the ballot box, particularly through mail-in, absentee or early voting.

Because of a law passed last year in the state, the number of drop boxes for absentee ballots has dwindled in highly populated and racially diverse areas. Four large counties that make up the core of metropolitan Atlanta — Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett — will have no more than 23 drop boxes in future elections, down from the 94 available in 2020.

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