Biden to touch on voting rights in sermon celebrating MLK
Posted on Sunday, January 15, 2023 | 9:12 am
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ATLANTA (AP) – President Joe Biden is marking Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. with a sermon Sunday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church that aims to celebrate the civil rights leader’s legacy by reviving the Biden administration’s call for comprehensive voting rights legislation.
Biden’s failure to win passage of a measure that would have strengthened voting rights protections, a central campaign promise, is one of his biggest disappointments in his first two years in office. The task is even more acute now that Republicans control the House of Representatives.
Before Biden’s visit to the church where King once preached, White House officials said he was committed to advocating for meaningful action on voting rights.
“The president will be speaking on a variety of issues in the church, including the importance that it is for us to have access to our democracy,” said senior adviser Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Bottoms, who served as Atlanta mayor from 2018 to 2022, said “you can’t come to Atlanta and not acknowledge the role that the civil rights movement and Dr. King played in where we are in our country’s history.”
The stop at Ebenezer comes at a delicate time for Biden after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday the appointment of a special counsel to investigate how the president handled classified documents after leaving the vice presidency in 2017. The White House revealed on Saturday that additional classifications the records were found at Biden’s home near Wilmington, Delaware.
The Democrats’ voting rights bill, named after John Lewis, the late civil rights leader and Georgia congressman, included provisions that would have made Election Day a national holiday, provided access to early voting and on mail-in ballots and would allow the Justice Department to intervene. in states with a history of voter interference, among others.
The legislation was defeated last year when two senators — Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a Democrat then and now an independent — refused to join their Democratic colleagues in changing Senate rules to overcome a Republican filibuster. Sinema announced last month that it was changing its party affiliation, but it continues to have parliamentary groups with the Democrats.
Biden was invited to Ebenezer, where King served as associate pastor from 1960 until he was assassinated in 1968, by Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor.
At the beginning of the service, Warnock called King “the greatest American prophet of the 20th century” who understood “that the greatest is what is within you … if you bow before God, you can stand before any person.”
Warnock, like many of the state’s battleground Democrats up for re-election in 2022, kept his distance on the campaign trail from Biden as the president’s approval rating stagnated and the inflation rate rose.
But with Biden beginning to turn his attention to an expected re-election bid in 2024, Georgia will get a lot of his attention.
In 2020, Biden managed to win Georgia, as well as narrowly contested Michigan and Pennsylvania, where the black vote constituted a disproportionate share of the Democratic electorate. Black voter turnout in those states will be crucial to Biden’s 2024 hopes.
The White House has tried to promote Biden’s agenda in minority communities. The White House has cited efforts to encourage states to consider equity for public works projects as they spend money from the administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The administration has also acted to end the disparity in sentencing between “crack” and “powder cocaine” offenses, abandoning a policy widely seen as racist.
The administration also highlights Biden’s work to diversify the federal judiciary, including his appointment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the confirmation of 11 black women judges on federal appeals courts — more than those installed in those powerful courts under all previous presidents combined.
King, who was born on January 15, 1929, was killed at the age of 39. He helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King’s family members were expected to attend Biden’s visit.
The president plans to be in Washington on Monday to speak at the National Action Network’s annual King Holiday Breakfast.
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.