MLK Jr. Day: Biden to deliver remarks on democracy and voting rights at Ebenezer Baptist Church
Joe Biden will be the first sitting president to speak at a Sunday service at the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, the White House announced, as Biden marks the national holiday weekend by honoring the late civil rights leader.
The president will “deliver remarks that reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, and how we can move forward together,” from the pulpit of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the White House said Friday. King served as co-pastor of the church from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.
Biden’s visit comes amid an ongoing stream of revelations related to the handling of classified documents after his time as vice president. The White House has faced growing criticism for its lack of transparency with the public regarding the discovery of classified materials in Biden’s home and private office. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to take over the investigation into classified documents found at two locations linked to Biden.
Biden was invited to speak Sunday by Ebenezer Baptist Church’s current pastor, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, on what would have been King’s 94th birthday. Warnock was recently elected to a full six-year term after an election in which he distanced himself from Biden during the campaign in Georgia, where polls showed a majority of voters disapproved of the president’s job performance.
At Ebenezer Baptist Church, Biden will speak on a variety of issues, “including how important it is that we have access to our democracy,” Keisha Lance Bottoms, the White House’s senior adviser for public engagement, told reporters in a press conference at the White House. Friday.
The speech also comes as the president is set to make a decision on his political future with his advisers preparing plans for a possible re-election bid. Biden narrowly carried Georgia in 2020, buoyed by the support of black voters, and the state could be critical in next year’s presidential campaign.
Bottoms, a former Atlanta mayor, called the visit “a turning point” as the president’s voting rights agenda remains blocked in Congress. She said Biden will highlight voting rights and related legislation that has stalled on Capitol Hill during his first two years in office.
“If you’ve been through the East Wing, you’ve seen photos of Dr. King meeting with Lyndon Johnson, meeting with other civil rights leaders, disenfranchising the White House—and so the fact that we’re still here talking about it in 2023, I think with really speaks to the fact that we need action, we need that action from Congress,” Bottoms said.
“The president has done and will continue to do everything he can do in his executive powers, but there is only so much he can do. We need Congress to act,” she added.
A Democratic-controlled House passed a 2021 voting rights bill, but efforts by Senate Democrats to change filibuster rules to pass the legislation were unsuccessful amid opposition from moderate Democrats Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Cinema. Sinema has since become an independent while continuing to caucus with Democrats, and Republicans won control of the House of Representatives after November’s midterm elections, further dashing hopes of finding a compromise on voting rights.
Bottoms defended the administration’s handling of the voting rights issue, telling reporters Friday that the White House has “done everything we can do as an executive branch,” but if there were additional steps that would move the issue forward, “we welcome these suggestions. .”
While in Atlanta, Biden is expected to meet with members of the King family and civil rights organizations, the White House said.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 at the age of 39.
On Monday, when the nation honors King on his namesake holiday, Biden will deliver the keynote address at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Action Network’s Day Breakfast. in Washington, DC, at the invitation of Rev. Al Sharpton.