Watch CBS News

Biden takes long-shot push for voting rights to Atlanta

Biden supports changing rules to pass voting bills
Biden supports changing Senate rules to pass voting bills 02:18

Atlanta — When President Biden visits here on Tuesday to call on Congress to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's voting rights laws, Cliff Albright will be listening closely. 

"We haven't seen the type of leadership that we need to see from — from President Biden," said Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter. His group is one of several Georgia-based organizations that told the White House in recent days: Don't come to Atlanta unless you have a concrete plan to pass voting rights legislation. 

"What we really want to see, given that he came down here, is that he's got an iron-clad deal in place. Anything short of that is really going to be disappointing." 

The White House believes what the president and Vice President Kamala Harris will say on Tuesday should be sufficient to assuage the concerns of Albright and others nationwide fighting against Republican-backed changes to state election laws. 

Mr. Biden and Harris are set to speak on the campus of Atlanta Clark University and Morehouse College, notable landmarks in the nation's civil rights history located in the downtown Atlanta congressional district once represented by the late John Lewis. They will push for swift passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — legislation that Senate Democrats are vowing to pass by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 17 — or change the Senate's filibuster rules to do so. 

President Biden Returns To Washington From Camp David
U.S. President Joe Biden walks across the South Lawn after returning to the White House on Marine One on January 10, 2022 in Washington, DC. After making visits to Boulder, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada earlier in the weekend, President Biden spent the rest of his weekend at Camp David. Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

"The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation," the president will say, according to excerpts released by the White House in advance. "Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so, the question is where will the institution of United States Senate stand?" 

The White House sees the speech as a continuation of the president and vice president's forceful denunciations last week of the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, where Mr. Biden vowed to "allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of our democracy."  

Continuing the argument on Tuesday, a senior aide said the president will encourage Americans to view January 6 not as the end of American democracy, "but the beginning of a renaissance for our democracy, where we stand up for the right to vote and to have that voted counted fairly — not undermined by partisans afraid of who you voted for." 

The speeches are also designed to jumpstart support for the legislation that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is vowing to hold votes on in the coming days. 

The first bill would establish national election standards, including declaring Election Day a national holiday. The legislation would require all 50 states to offer at least two weeks of early voting, including on nights and weekends. No-excuse vote-by-mail options would need to become available to all eligible voters and the legislation would establish a new voter identification standard that differs from what several states already require. It also would require states to offer same-day voter registration.  

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who's earned global acclaim for standing up against former president Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections in the Peach State, said the same-day voter registration requirements are too difficult for state elections officials to provide.  

"That's just, you know, very difficult for any election official to manage. And I think that undermines trust in elections," he said. 

The second piece of legislation, named for Lewis, would update the 1965 Voting Rights Act forcing states with a history of discrimination to first clear any potential changes with the Justice Department.   

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, forcefully denounced the legislation as "a bill to turn the partisan attorney general into a national elections czar." 

"I'm sure our Democratic colleagues would have reacted well if Republicans had tried to break Senate rules so that [former Attorney General] Bill Bar could micromanage elections in blue states," he added.  

Neither proposal has Republican support and would fail to survive a filibuster vote, meaning that the current debate over voting rights is first a push to revamp Senate rules — a long-sought move by the Democratic Party's liberal base that has spent years denouncing how a minority of senators have used chamber rules to block legislation supported by a majority of Americans. 

In his remarks Tuesday, Mr. Biden is set to reiterate his support for revamping filibuster rules in order to pass voting rights bills. Last month, he told ABC News he supports the rules change because, "The only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting it passed is the filibuster." 

Despite his decades of Senate service and continued affinity for the upper chamber, the White House aide says the president now believes that "abuse" of the once rarely-used procedural tactic "has injured the body enormously, and its use to protect extreme attacks on the most basic constitutional right is abhorrent." 

But it is unclear if the president's more forceful endorsement of revamping Senate rules will convince moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to drop their opposition to making a rules change without Republican support.  

Albright urged the senator-turned-president to start making better use of his bully pulpit to convince them.   

"You can use the stick or you can use the carrot, right? What is it that Joe Manchin wants? Find out what it is," Albright said. "You can't run on the presidency because you've got four decades in the Senate, and then you can't whip two votes. That's just not acceptable, right? So, either you need to find out what it is that will force him to get on board, or what it is that will encourage him. Name a bridge after him. Name the bill after him. It can be the 'Joe Manchin Freedom to Vote Act' – I don't care." 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.