After Congress passed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure with no Republican support, the GOP wanted to talk about the border — an issue they thought would put President BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE on defense.
The effort worked to an extent. Much of the media conversation moved to the wave of migrants coming to the border and Republicans traveled there to hold briefings, where they frequently criticized the White House policies.
Now Democrats are seizing on Georgia’s passage of a voting measure to shift the conversation back to topics they believe will energize their base and, from their perspective, put the GOP on the back foot.
Both parties are seeking to shift the subject with the 2022 midterm elections on their minds, when Democrats will be defending their slender majorities in the House and Senate.
The Georgia voting rights measure — and others like it around the country that GOP legislatures and governors are pursuing — could make those Democratic efforts more difficult.
The measure in Georgia has been described by critics as an effort to suppress the votes of Black Americans. It would introduce various new restrictions and rules for voting, including a provision to keep anyone other than poll workers from giving water or food to people in long lines.
But while Democrats are fearful that the new laws could make it more difficult for their constituents to vote, they believe the issue will keep the liberal base energized heading into an election cycle that is historically difficult for the new president’s party.
They’re also happy to keep Georgia as ground zero in the battle over voting rights, believing the groundwork laid by Stacey Abrams has positioned the party to build on the gains they made in 2020, when Biden carried the state and Democrats swept both Senate races on their way to winning a majority in the upper chamber.
Democrats believe that if the GOP’s elections reform bill in Georgia had been passed before the 2020 elections, the outcome might have been different.
“The most reliable issue set for turnout, particularly among minority voters, is voter suppression,” said Howard Franklin, a Democratic operative in Atlanta. “We have a political and campaigns apparatus here that will make sure Black and white and Democratic and Republican and independent voters know who made it more difficult to vote during a pandemic. We intend to weaponize the issue, and the progressive firmament here has shown it can be creative in finding ways to work around the obstacles thrown in our way.”
Republicans are furious over what they view as Democrats and the media misconstruing elements of the Georgia bill to establish a narrative that the GOP is seeking to suppress the Black vote.
The food and water provision, from their standpoint, is a good example. The new law establishes boundaries that are on the books in many blue states, allowing poll workers to distribute food and water but relegating activists to stations outside of polling places. Language that would have rolled back voting on Sundays was taken out of the legislation.
And they say the voter ID requirement for absentee ballots, which replaces a signature matching system, will streamline the certification process while causing inconvenience to a negligible number of voters.
“As everyone learns what is actually in the bill, a lot of this will die down,” Georgia Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia faculty members to require masks in classrooms Republican politicians: Let OSHA do its job Dozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge MORE (R) said on Newsmax on Monday. “And hopefully folks will punish the people who are spreading these lies and mistruths and call them out for what they really are.”
Biden and other White House officials have been outspoken in opposition to voting restrictions being proposed and implemented nationwide. Biden decried the rollback of voting rights during a press conference as “despicable,” and on Friday he denounced the Georgia law as an “atrocity.”
He suggested the Department of Justice could look at the Georgia law, and the president earlier this month signed an executive order intended to leverage federal resources to ensure ballot access. The passage of voting rights legislation in Congress is also a top priority, officials said, though existing proposals are unlikely to garner enough votes in the Senate.
The White House has limited tools at its disposal to directly fight back against laws like the one in Georgia given elections are run by states.
Instead, officials have focused on hammering home the idea that the right to vote is under attack and elevating the issue whenever possible.
Biden and Vice President Harris met with Abrams during a recent trip to Georgia to discuss voting rights, and the president’s most emotionally charged comments during his press conference last week came when he was expressing his displeasure with GOP legislatures attempting to tighten voting laws.
Asked Monday what Americans who are outraged by the Georgia law can do in response, White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden administration defends handling of Haitians amid uproar Sean Spicer, Russ Vought sue Biden over Naval Board removal 'Quad' summit is a chance to clarify our Indo-Pacific agenda MORE suggested they turn to the ballot box.
“They should elect new leaders,” she said. “They can take steps like any individual can take as an American citizen to have their voice heard and exercise their Democratic right.”
Republicans argue that Democrats have used allegations of voter suppression every cycle to raise money and energize their base, whether the allegations are true or not.
And Republicans are fuming that Democrats are getting a free pass on their own elections bill, H.R. 1, that would federalize the elections process.
“The idea that you’d federalize the election process with no Republican support in an environment in which tens of millions of people already don’t trust the process is insane,” said Mark Braden, the former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. “Trump said a lot of things that were untrue and should be held to account for that, but now Democrats are showing up at the fire with gasoline instead of water.”
Republicans believe the Democratic efforts could backfire. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, released a polling memo on Monday showing broad concerns about election integrity and support for voter ID measures.
“You really think that minorities in America do not have ID’s? Really?” Scott asked. “No, you don’t think that at all. You simply play the race card in order to stop this common-sense reform. Your suggestion that minorities do not have ID is, in fact, racist.”
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Executive Director Christie Roberts blasted back, accusing Republicans of “trying to suppress voter turnout” because “they lost elections after standing in the way of relief checks and vaccine funding that the public overwhelmingly supports.”
The DSCC is considering new investments in voter protection and education programs, as well as potential litigation.
“They want to escape accountability by undermining democracy,” Roberts said. “The DSCC made historic, successful investments to defend voting rights throughout the 2020 cycle, and over the next two years we’ll continue our aggressive efforts to oppose Republican voter suppression in whatever form it takes.”