President Joe Biden departs with Vice President Kamala Harris walk at the U.S. Capitol after marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly attack by extremist supporters of former President Donald Trump. Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 11 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden called for a change in Senate rules on the filibuster to allow Democrats to pass a voting rights bill during his visit Tuesday to Atlanta.
He and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Georgia for a series of events to promote legislation designed to safeguard voting rights in an era when some states are taking action to make it tougher to cast a ballot.
The hallmark of the trip were remarks at Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, where Biden marked the recent one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. During the riots, supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the election in Biden's favor.
"Today, we come to Atlanta, the cradle of civil rights, to make clear what must come after that dreadful day, when a dagger was literally held at the throat of American democracy," Biden said.
"They want chaos to reign, we want the people to rule," he added. "Hear me plainly -- the battle for the soul of America is not over."
Biden said he supports changing the Senate filibuster, which has prevented Democrats from passing a voting rights bill. As a senator for 36 years, he previously was reluctant to change the Senate tradition.
"Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world's greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self," he said. "As an institutionalist, I believe that 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. 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.
"I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired of being quiet."
Speaking before Biden, Harris warned of the consequences on voter rights if more states pass restrictive laws.
"The assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American in every community in every political party," she said. "And if we stand idly by, our entire nation will pay the price for generations to come."
Georgia was one of the first states to pass stricter laws on voting after the 2020 presidential election, in which Biden carried the state. Critics have denounced the state for pandering to false claims of election fraud by former President Donald Trump.
Biden and Harris arrived separately at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport around 12:30 p.m., where Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens greeted them. Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Sen. Raphael Warnock also traveled to Atlanta for the meeting.
On their first stop of the trip, Biden and Harris visited the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. They also laid a wreath in the civil rights leader's memory at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The Kings' children, Bernice King and Martin Luther King III were in attendance.
Biden and Harris then visited Ebenezer Baptist Church along with Sen. Jon Ossoff and Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath. Warnock is co-pastor at the historic church.
A coalition of voting rights groups in Georgia said they plan on skipping Biden's appearance on Tuesday because they see no real plan to get the federal legislation passed. It's been passed in the House, but has stalled in the Senate.
Nse Ufot, of the New Georgia Project, said Biden would be better served in Washington.
"What we haven't heard is the thing that we've been asking for since January 6, 2021, which is what is the plan to pass federal voting rights protections, enhance federal voting rights protections?" Ufot told NPR.
Ufot called for Senate Democrats to abolish the filibuster altogether, calling it "a racist tool," or at the least create a carveout so voting rights legislation cannot be filibustered.
Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said there's no need for Biden or Harris to pitch their position.
"We don't need even more photo ops," Albrightsaid, according to CNN.
"We need action, and that action is in the form of the John Lewis Voting Rights (Advancement) Act as well as the Freedom to Vote Act, and we need that immediately."