Woodall said in the call following Biden’s speech that “our position yesterday and our position today is not a position against anyone. It’s for the people.” He said now is not the time to celebrate the president coming to Georgia. That’s not the point. Action is the point.
“Our call is simple,” Woodall said. “It’s that every single American should be able to cast their ballot, should be able to participate in our democracy.”
Earlier in the day, Woodall also called out a constitutional amendment that state Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller proposed on Monday to include in the Georgia constitution what state law already bans, which is voting by people who aren’t citizens. “This legislation, again, is a complete dog whistle that further dehumanizes immigrant communities,” Woodall tweeted. “Non-citizens don’t currently vote in Georgia, yet we are pushing this narrative to ostracize our fellow neighbors. Enraging.”
If passed, the proposal would go before voters on this year’s ballot and serve as yet another attempt to prevent the alleged widespread voter fraud that Georgia’s election leaders said didn’t exist in the race that unseated former President Donald Trump.
It is exactly the kind of underhanded mechanism post-Trump Republicans in Georgia are known for. Last year, they rushed a 100-page voter suppression bill, now law, through the state legislature that restricts the number of drop boxes available to voters, requires voter ID for mail-in ballots, and gives the Republican-controlled state legislature more control over local elections officials.
Many state Democrats consider the law a retaliatory strike from Republicans after Georgia voters backed a Democrat for president for the first time since they elected Bill Clinton in 1992, then unseated Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in a Senate runoff election last January.
During Biden’s inaugural year in office, in a year-end analysis the Brennan Center identified 34 laws passed in 19 states to restrict voting access. Still, Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have vehemently defended a filibuster that stands in the way of a simple Democratic majority passing federal legislation protecting voting rights.
“I believe the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills. Debate them. Vote. Let the majority prevail,” Biden said in Georgia. “And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this.”
A filibuster is an operational instrument requiring 60 votes instead of a simple majority to stall or block a vote, and it has been used by Senate Republicans to delay civil rights legislation for decades.
Biden had been hesitant to support ending the filibuster earlier this year in his calls on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. By last May, the closest the president would come to axing to legislative tool was agreeing with former President Barack Obama’s assessment at the late Rep. John Lewis’ funeral that the Senate filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era. But even then, when asked about abolishing it, Biden stumbled. “Successful politics is the art of the possible,” he eventually said. “Let’s deal with the abuse first.”
Georgia activists appeared to have appreciated the president’s change of tune, but they also took notice of his failure to directly call out the legislators standing in the way of voting rights progress: Sinema and Manchin. “If you are not pressuring Manchin and Sinema in their own home states, you are part of the problem,” Rev. William Barber II, co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, reportedly said.
Kendra Cotton, chief operating officer of the New Georgia Project to drive voter registration, also said the president fell short of activists’ call on him to give a detailed plan for how he planned to get to a filibuster carve-out and build consensus in the Senate. She said she was encouraged by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer setting a deadline of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17 to vote on changing the rules to get voting rights protections passed.
“We here in Georgia are looking at a May primary … and we are operating under some terrible laws right now in our state that are really hampering and depressing our voters,” Cotton said. “And so, what we would like to see is some movement on this very quickly.”