Hmmm: Voting-rights groups to boycott Biden-Harris event in Georgia ... and Abrams AWOL too?

Hmmm: Voting-rights groups to boycott Biden-Harris event in Georgia ... and Abrams AWOL too?
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

This scoop from the New York Times really puts the “dis” in disarray, no? Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will speak today near Atlanta to push for the passage of SB1, the all-but-doomed attempt by Democrats to federalize elections. Biden expected to get the support of progressive groups in order to put pressure on Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — and others — to dump the filibuster and vote for passage.

Instead, several of these progressive groups not only are criticizing Biden for waiting too long to get to this fight, they’re now going to snub the event altogether, starting with one eye-popping absence:

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor and one of the nation’s best known voting-rights advocates, will not be there. Nor will a coalition of Georgia’s most active voting-rights groups.

Ms. Abrams has a scheduling conflict, an aide said on Monday. She expressed support for the event on Twitter.

Say what? This is Abrams’ signature issue! There won’t be a more high-profile event in Georgia focusing on “voting rights” ever. How often does a president and VP of one’s own party come to the same event in one’s home state? Especially given Abrams’ new gubernatorial run and her claims of being robbed in her previous attempt, skipping this event is astonishing. What could possibly be on her schedule that has more potential and a higher profile than this?

That’s quite the “dis,” but it’s hardly the only one. Abrams’ allies are refusing to attend without bothering to claim some sort of ersatz scheduling conflict:

But several leading voting rights and civil rights groups are pointedly skipping the speech, protesting what they denounced as months of frustrating inaction by the White House — which they said showed that Mr. Biden did not view Republican attacks on voting rights with sufficient urgency.

“We do not need any more speeches, we don’t need any more platitudes,” said James Woodall, former president of the N.A.A.C.P. of Georgia. “We don’t need any more photo ops. We need action, and that actually is in the form of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, as well as the Freedom to Vote Act — and we need that immediately.”

Exasperation among voting rights groups has been building for months, as 19 states passed 34 new laws creating new restrictions on voting. One of the most sweeping new laws was signed in Georgia nearly 10 months ago.

They’re sore for a good reason, actually. The two bills died in the Senate months ago — eight months ago, actually — without Biden doing much about it. Joe Manchin opposed any unilateral change in the nature of federal authority over elections and wanted to work with Republicans on such issues. There appeared again to be other Senate Democrats who weren’t entirely on board with the radical nature of SB1 and leaned in Manchin’s direction. These groups are pointing out that Biden and Harris didn’t bother to hold pressers to push the bills, let alone go out on the road to press for passage back in May.

So why now? Biden needs them to regain some political momentum, that’s why, and it’s why Biden and Chuck Schumer exhumed SB1 after the failure of Build Back Better. They can’t get Manchin on board with either, but this gives Schumer a chance at a stupid and futile gesture on the filibuster. These groups probably question why the Biden and Harris Road Show stopped in Georgia, where its two Senate Democrats already support the bill, rather than West Virginia and Arizona, and possibly New Hampshire. Especially since the only Georgia Democrat who could benefit from this progressive lecture series doesn’t plan to show up at all anyway.

These groups are just getting used by Biden and Harris in a desperate attempt to escape a confidence-crisis cascade, not to seriously move the needle on these bills. They know it, too, and want to make sure everyone else knows it.

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