Biden calls on Senate to change filibuster rules for voting rights as he turns up the heat on Congress to pass major bills


“I’ve been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I’m tired of being quiet,” Biden said, slapping his hand on the lectern to emphasize his point.

The President’s speech in Atlanta, a city at the heart of the civil rights movement, is the latest in his recurring calls for the nation’s voting rights to be bolstered. Throughout the first year of his presidency, Biden has devoted several speeches to voting rights, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the centenary of the race massacre in that city; South Carolina State University’s graduation ceremony; at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington and at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Biden, during the opening of speech on the grounds of Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, recalled “the violent mob” that stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and former President Donald Trump, who he said “sought to win through violence what he had lost through the ballot box, to impose the will of a mob, to overturn free and fair elections, and for the first time in American history, to stop peaceful transfer of power.”

“They failed. They failed. But democracy’s victory was not certain. Nor is democracy’s future,” Biden added. “That’s why we’re here today. “

Biden is being joined in Georgia by Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he appointed to lead the administration’s work on voting rights. Several members of Congress, local officials and civil rights leaders are accompanying them on different parts of the trip.

While in Atlanta, the President and vice president laid a wreath at the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and visited Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

In her remarks preceding the President in Atlanta, Harris asserted that Americans could face dire consequences if the nation becomes complacent about restrictive voter laws being enacted in various states, including Georgia.

“The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American in every community in every political party. And if we stand idly by, our entire nation will pay the price for generations to come,” she said.

Changing the filibuster rules in the Senate, which require 60 votes to end debate on legislation, is a major focus of the day — and Biden’s address specifically. Biden, on Tuesday, is repeating his call for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Without changing the filibuster rules, it’s unclear how either bill Biden wants passed will get done.. During the Atlanta remarks Biden called for the rules to be changed — he had previously expressed his support for making an exception to the filibuster rules in order to pass voting rights legislation.

“I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking actions on voting rights,” he said Tuesday.

The Senate is expected to take up voting rights in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set a deadline of January 17 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — for the Senate to vote on a rules change if Republicans continue to block voting rights legislation.

Biden’s visit to the Peach State, which takes places less than a week before MLK Jr. Day, comes amid pressure by advocates calling on Biden to spell out more clearly a pathway to the passage of the voting rights bills.

A number of voting rights groups issued a letter saying Biden and Harris should not visit Atlanta without a concrete plan to pass voting rights bills into law immediately. On Monday, a coalition of voting rights groups in Georgia announced they will not be attending events surrounding Biden’s visit.

“We don’t need another speech. We don’t need him to come to Georgia and use us as a prop. What we need is work,” Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Tuesday morning.

Albright said he would like to see the President approach voting rights the same way he worked to get his bipartisan infrastructure law passed and personally appeal to senators.

“If he is saying the next seven days is going to be historic and critical, he’s got to fully lean in after he gives the speech, having the kinds of meetings, finding out from (West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe) Manchin what exactly it’s going to take, and being very direct and forceful — just as forceful as he has been on infrastructure and on some other issues,” Albright said.

Albright added: “There’s no sense in having 40 years of Senate experience only to tell us that you can’t whip two votes.”

Prominent Georgia leader Stacey Abrams — arguably the Democratic Party’s preeminent voting rights advocate after using her 2018 gubernatorial loss to Republican Brian Kemp to elevate the issue — did not attend Biden’s speech. After the election, Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organization that advocates for voter protection across the country, and she’s running for governor again this year.

The President said Tuesday morning that he had spoken with Abrams, attributing her absence at his forthcoming speech to a scheduling conflict.

“I spoke to Stacey this morning. We have a great relationship. We got our scheduling mixed up. I talked to her at length this morning. We’re all on the same page and everything’s fine,” he said.

On Tuesday aboard Air Force One, Psaki told reporters that Biden shares his own frustrations with voting rights activists over the current impasse on voting rights.

“He shares the desire to get this done. He shares their frustration it’s not done yet,” Psaki said.

Jana Morgan, the director of Declaration for American Democracy, told CNN she is “cautiously optimistic” about Biden’s speech, but that she views it as a first step.

“We are going to be watching closely to make sure that there is follow up on these on these remarks,” Morgan said. She leads a coalition of organizations working to advance voting rights.

Morgan said she wants the President to be personally appealing to senators in order to get the voting rights legislation passed.

“He has said that this is the biggest test to our country since the Civil War, and I believe he’s right because American democracy is under attack. So, we wanted to see those strong words put into action,” Morgan said.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Dan Merica, Fredreka Schouten and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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