Democrats have seized on new voting restrictions in Georgia to focus attention on the fight to overhaul federal election laws, setting up a slow-building standoff that carries echoes of the civil rights battles of a half-century ago.
In fiery speeches, pointed statements and tweets, party leaders on Friday decried the law signed the day before by the state’s Republican governor as specifically aimed at suppressing Black and Latino votes and a threat to democracy. President Joe Biden released 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 laws of the last century that enforced heavy-handed racial segregation in the South.
“It must end. We have a moral and Constitutional obligation to act,” he said. He told reporters the Georgia law is an “atrocity" and the Justice Department is looking into it.
Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, lashed back, accusing Biden of attempting to “destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box" by supporting what the governor sees as federal intrusion into state responsibilities.
Behind the chorus of outrage, Democrats are also wrestling with the limits on their power in Washington, as long as Senate filibuster rules allow Republicans to block major legislation, including H.R. 1, a sweeping elections bill now pending in the Senate.
Biden and his party are seeking to build and sustain momentum in the realm of public opinion — hoping to nationalize what has so far been a Republican-led, state-by-state movement to curb access to the ballot — while they begin a slow, plodding legislative process. Allies meanwhile plan to fight the Georgia law, and others, in court.
“What’s happening in Georgia right now, underscores the importance and the urgency,” said Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in an interview Friday.