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Biden says Justice Department is "taking a look" at Georgia elections law

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President Joe Biden called a sweeping elections law signed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp this week an "atrocity," and said the Justice Department is "taking a look" at the measure.

The new law includes provisions to require voter identification for absentee ballots, limit the use of ballot drop boxes, give state officials more power over elections and make it a crime to offer voters food and water as they wait in line. 

Critics argue that the law disproportionately affects Black voters, who were critical to recent Democratic victories. Mr. Biden narrowly won the state in the 2020 election, and Georgia sent two Democrats to the Senate after runoff elections in January.

Asked by reporters on Friday how the White House could respond to the bill, Mr. Biden said "we're working on that right now."

"We don't know quite exactly what we can do at this point. The Justice Department's taking a look as well," Mr. Biden said. 

He told reporters that the bill was an "atrocity."

"It has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency. They passed the law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote? You don't need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting. You can't provide water for people about to vote? Give me a break," he said.

In a statement released earlier on Friday, the president urged Congress to pass voting rights legislation that would counter the Georgia law and other bills proposed by Republican state legislatures across the country that would make voting more difficult.

"This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience," Mr. Biden said. He noted that longer lines at the polls disproportionately affected Black voters in metropolitan areas, as Republican officials have reduced the number of polling sites in their neighborhoods.

"This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end. We have a moral and constitutional obligation to act. I once again urge Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to make it easier for all eligible Americans access the ballot box and prevent attacks on the sacred right to vote," Mr. Biden continued.

The House recently passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that address elections and elections and campaign finance reform. However, it is unlikely to pass in the Senate, where most Republicans have expressed opposition to the bill. Democrats only have a 50-seat majority in the Senate, and most legislation requires 60 votes to advance.

Even if Democrats eliminated the filibuster, which would lower the threshold to a simple majority, some Democrats have also expressed concerns about the bill. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said this week that he believed the bill should be narrowed, and Democrats and Republicans should try to pass voting rights legislation on a bipartisan basis. Manchin is also opposed to ending the filibuster.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Senate Judiciary Committee would soon take up the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court. Like the For the People Act, it is unlikely to receive the needed support from 60 senators.

Meanwhile, Republicans argue that the Georgia bill does not amount to voter suppression. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said that "the cries of 'voter suppression' from those on the left ring hollow." Kemp said that it made elections safer.

"There is nothing 'Jim Crow' about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot. Every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in-person," Kemp said on Friday.

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