Someone had to go first. Georgia went first. The New York Times’ Nick Corasaniti drew the short straw. He had to explain this:
Georgia Republicans on Thursday passed a sweeping law to restrict voting access in the state, introducing more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limiting drop boxes and expanding the Legislature’s power over elections. The new measures make Georgia the first major battleground to overhaul its election system since the turmoil of last year’s presidential contest.
Republicans now say this sort of thing had become necessary. Democrats roll their eyes and sigh. This sort of thing had become inevitable. Everyone could see that:
The legislation, which followed Democratic victories that flipped the state at the presidential and Senate levels, comes amid a national movement among Republican-controlled state legislatures to mount the most extensive contraction of voting access in generations. Seeking to appease a conservative base that remains incensed about the results of the 2020 election, Republicans have already passed a similar law in Iowa, and are moving forward with efforts to restrict voting in states including Arizona, Florida and Texas.
And that means this was inevitable too:
Democrats and voting rights groups have condemned such efforts, arguing that they unfairly target voters of color. They say the new law in Georgia particularly seeks to make voting harder for the state’s large Black population, which was crucial to President Biden’s triumph in Georgia in November and the success of Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the January runoff elections.
President Biden joined Georgia Democrats on Thursday in denouncing efforts to limit voting, calling Republicans’ push around the country “the most pernicious thing.”
He may be right:
Though the law is less stringent than the initial iterations of the bill, it introduces a raft of new restrictions for voting and elections in the state, including limiting drop boxes, stripping the secretary of state of some of his authority, imposing new oversight of county election boards, restricting who can vote with provisional ballots, and making it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in lines. The law also requires runoff elections to be held four weeks after the original vote, instead of the current nine weeks.
The law does not include some of the harshest restrictions that had been proposed, like a ban on Sunday voting that was seen as an attempt to curtail the role of Black churches in driving turnout. And the legislation now, in fact, expands early voting options in some areas. No-excuse absentee voting, in which voters do not have to provide a rationale for casting a ballot by mail, also remains in place, though it will now entail new restrictions such as providing a state-issued identification card.
That’s an odd mix. Black voters now wait ten to twelve hours in line to vote, and now may wait even longer, but offering water to anyone waiting in those lines is only a misdemeanor, not a felony. Good Samaritans will be fined. They won’t get ten years in jail. And there will still be lines. No one is denying anyone the right to vote. It will just be next to impossible for certain kinds of people, in certain places, to vote – next to impossible but NOT impossible. And getting that state-issued identification card is not a big deal – unless the one office that issues those is out in the middle of nowhere and open for business only one day a week, for an hour. As for the secretary of state down there, he has no part to play in any elections now. He had pissed off Donald Trump. No secretary of state down there will be allowed to do that ever again.
That’s the whole point. This is about making Donald Trump happy:
The governor, who is up for re-election in 2022 and was heavily criticized by Donald J. Trump after the election for not abetting the former president’s effort to subvert the outcome, detailed his own history as a secretary of state fighting for stronger voter identification laws, which Democrats have denounced as having an outsize impact on communities of color. Mr. Kemp said that protests against the bill were pure politics.
“I fought these partisan activists tooth and nail for over 10 years to keep our elections secure, accessible and fair,” Mr. Kemp said.
He seems to be asking Trump for forgiveness:
During the contentious months after the November election, the state became a particular obsession of Mr. Trump, who spun falsehoods, lies and conspiracy theories about electoral fraud and pressured election officials, including the Republican secretary of state, to “find” him votes.
Yet after election officials rebuffed Mr. Trump, and multiple audits reaffirmed the results, Republican legislators held hearings on the election, inviting some of the president’s allies like Rudolph W. Giuliani to speak. After the hearings, G.O.P. lawmakers promised to introduce new legislation to help “restore confidence” in elections, even though the last one had been held safely and securely.
That doesn’t matter. This is about their careers and families – Please don’t hurt me, Massa Trump! It won’t happen again!
That won’t do:
Outside the Statehouse in Atlanta on Thursday, a coalition of Black faith leaders assembled a protest, voicing their opposition to the bill and calling for a boycott of major corporations in Georgia that they said had remained silent on the voting push, including Coca-Cola.
The faith leaders also sought a meeting with Mr. Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, also a Republican. Mr. Duncan met with the group for three minutes; Mr. Kemp did not.
“I told him exactly how I felt: that these bills were not only voter suppression, but they were in fact racist, and they are an attempt to turn back time to Jim Crow,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who oversees all African Methodist Episcopal churches in the state.
He wasn’t alone:
The voting legislation’s approval in the House on Thursday morning came after an impassioned debate on the floor of the chamber.
Erica Thomas, a Democratic state representative from outside Atlanta, opened her remarks by recalling the memory of former Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights leader who died last year. She quoted an old speech of his before voicing her opposition to the bill.
“Why do we rally, why do we protest voter suppression?” she said. “It is because our ancestors are looking down right now on this House floor, praying and believing that our fight, and that their fight, was not in vain. We call on the strength of Congressman John Lewis in this moment. Because right now, history is watching.”
History is watching a new show on the History Channel – Brian Kemp: The Last of the Red-Hot Racists – but there will be other shows:
The law is likely to be met by legal challenges from Democratic groups, and voting rights organizations have vowed to continue to work against the provisions.
Bishop Jackson said he would be working with his constituents to make sure that they had the proper identification, registered in time, and knew how to vote under the new rules.
“This is a fight,” he said. “I think we’re probably at halftime. I think we got another half to go.”
Georgia has made voting next to impossible for the “wrong sorts of people” – but that only makes those people angry. Now they’ll flood the zone. They can overcome anything. They used to sing about that.
Mark Leibovich and Richard Fausset join Corasaniti to explain that:
The new barriers will have an outsize impact on Black voters, who make up roughly one-third of the state’s population and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
The Republican legislation will undermine pillars of voting access by limiting drop boxes for mail ballots, introducing more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting and making it a crime to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote. Long lines to vote are common in Black neighborhoods in Georgia’s cities, particularly Atlanta, where much of the state’s Democratic electorate lives.
That’s where this gets hot, but wait, there’s more:
The new law also expands the Legislature’s power over elections, which has raised worries that it could interfere with the vote in predominantly Democratic, heavily Black counties like Fulton and Gwinnett.
Black voters were a major force in Democratic success in recent elections, with roughly 88 percent voting for Mr. Biden and more than 90 percent voting for Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the January runoff elections, according to exit polls.
The fear is that the Legislature will do what they now for the first time are allowed to do, fire the local election board in any or all of these places, at any time, and send in their own people, no questions asked, no questions allowed. That’s an issue, one of many:
Democrats say that Republicans are effectively returning to one of the ugliest tactics in the state’s history – oppressive laws aimed at disenfranchising voters.
“Rather than grappling with whether their ideology is causing them to fail, they are instead relying on what has worked in the past,” Stacey Abrams, the voting rights activist, said as the bill made its way through the Legislature, referring to what she said were laws designed to suppress votes. “Instead of winning new voters, you rig the system against their participation, and you steal the right to vote.”
Well, Kemp has a message for her. This is Georgia. You’re Black. Sit down and shut up. Or get out. Or consider this:
The Supreme Court signaled this month that it was ready to make it harder to challenge all sorts of limits on voting around the nation. Should the high court make changes to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows after-the-fact challenges to voting restrictions that may disproportionately affect members of minority groups, Democrats and voting rights groups could be left without one of their most essential tools to challenge new laws.
No one will be able to challenge anything. It’s a states’ rights thing. But that may not matter:
In an interview earlier this month, Ms. Abrams, the former Democratic minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, called Republicans’ effort “a sign of fear” over their failure to win support from young and minority voters, two of the fastest-growing sectors of the state’s electorate.
She added that the measure was also potentially self-defeating for the G.O.P. in that large percentages of rural white voters, a traditionally Republican-leaning bloc, could also be impeded by laws that make it harder for citizens to cast absentee ballots and vote by mail.
She’s telling them they already lost on this.
Oh, and by the way, a few hours earlier the president finally had his first press conference:
President Biden on Thursday set a hierarchy for the country’s numerous crises, pledging to administer 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots by the end of April, repair the country’s infrastructure and move aggressively to expand voting rights – while presenting guns and immigration as secondary priorities.
In his first presidential news conference, Biden outlined a sort of triage, signaling that his focus for now is chiefly on addressing the pandemic and embarking on a push to rebuild roads, bridges and technology. He said most middle and elementary schools are on pace to open in the next five weeks, that he “can’t picture” troops being in Afghanistan in a year, and that he expects to seek reelection in 2024.
In short, he’s going to be methodical, not excitable. He’ll be steady:
Much of the hour-long session was taken up with a discussion of the border, heated at times, as Biden rejected the notion that more migrants are coming because they have heard he is a “nice guy,” though lawmakers and experts have cited his welcoming rhetoric as a contributing factor. He blamed the Trump administration’s policies, saying they left him at a disadvantage, and said he has not traveled to the border because he felt it would be a distraction.
He’ll be methodical. That applies to everything:
Biden made specific commitments on several fronts, such as the vaccination pledge, but was vaguer on other topics, notably when he would seek to take up gun and immigration laws, calling them “long-term problems” to be addressed one at a time. The surge of migrants and the eruption of two mass shootings days apart have inflamed the national conversation, but Biden signaled he would not let that alter his timetable.
The president has yet to respond to pressure to issue executive orders tightening firearms laws or to deliver on a campaign promise to send gun-control legislation to Capitol Hill.
“It’s a matter of timing,” said Biden. “As you’ve all observed, successful presidents – better than me – have been successful in a large part because they know how to time what they’re doing. Order it, decide on priorities, what needs to be done.”
That applies to this too:
An evenly divided Senate has emerged as the biggest impediment to Biden’s agenda and on Thursday, he offered his strongest indication yet that he is open to doing away with the chamber’s 60-vote threshold on most legislation, known as the filibuster. But he stopped short of endorsing that, touting a more a modest reform but saying that if gridlock cannot be broken, “then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”
But one step at a time:
Recent days have seen a collision of sorts between the tasks Biden has promised to tackle from the outset – the pandemic and the economy – and long-running problems that have erupted in unforeseen ways. Democrats and Republicans have struggled for decades to tackle gun violence and immigration reform, and Biden is clearly content to confront them in good time.
But the situation on the border has become more pressing, as Biden struggles to deal with two related challenges: a huge increase in migrants arriving at the border, many of whom are being turned away, and the need to house and care for thousands of unaccompanied children.
Biden framed the decision to accept children as a moral one, promising not to let young would-be migrants starve on the other side of the border. He repeatedly slammed former president Donald Trump’s hardline policies, including separating families from their children.
And let’s not get too excited here:
While some current and former government officials have said Biden’s pledges to create a more humane system are fueling the rise in the number of people arriving at the border, the president pointed to other factors, including a desire by many people to arrive before hot summer weather as well as poor economic and social conditions in Central America.
“I guess I should be flattered people are coming because I’m the nice guy, that’s the reason why it’s happening,” Biden said sarcastically. He added, “Does anybody suggest that there was a 31 percent increase under Trump because he was a nice guy and he was doing good things at the border? That’s not the reason they’re coming.”
But there was that one thing:
Biden became most visibly animated when he condemned efforts by Republican legislatures nationwide to pass voting-restriction measures. His voice boomed across the East Room of the White House as he denounced the efforts as “sick.”
“The Republican voters I know find this despicable. Republican voters, folks out in the – outside this White House. I’m not talking about the elected officials, I’m talking about voters,” Biden said. “And so I am convinced that we’ll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing.”
That’s what knocked him off his methodical project path, but the Washington Post’s Gary Abernathy sees this:
The most impressive revelation on Thursday from President Biden’s first news conference was that he has a plan and he intends to stick with it. Biden steadfastly insisted that the next priority on his list was the nation’s infrastructure, despite shinier objects like election reform or gun control.
“I want to get things done,” Biden said, while stressing his belief in “the art of the possible” and the importance of timing. He made clear that despite recent events tugging him in different directions, including two mass shootings, the country’s infrastructure needs are up next. Having a plan, and carrying it out despite inevitable distractions, are two admirable achievements for any new administration.
That’s new, and he knows it:
He seemed somewhat obsessed with his predecessor, invoking Donald Trump’s name several times without really being prompted. He contrasted his approach to the southern border with Trump’s, but didn’t explain why he abandoned Trump’s policies before having a solid plan to replace them. He said a surge happens this time every year, casting doubt on whether there are more unaccompanied minors, which most agree there certainly are.
But that’s a minor detail. He’ll be steady. He’s got this:
As has been the case with Biden since he announced his candidacy, there was much focus going into Thursday on questions of age and acuity. Since the beginning of the 2020 campaign, most fair observers acknowledged that Biden is not the same Biden that America watched for decades as a senator and through eight years as vice president. He’s at least a step slower, in many observable ways.
The covid pandemic let Biden employ a “basement strategy” during the campaign, leading to questions of whether he could have handled the rigors of traditional barnstorming. Before his first debate with Trump, speculation centered on whether Biden could stand and deliver for 90 minutes without a break. Trump, true to form, delivered such a manic performance that Biden was barely tested, and Biden won by just watching in disbelief with the rest of us. In their second and final debate, Biden did fine.
But in the early months of his presidency, Biden has done little to reassure. His appearances are infrequent and brief. He often speaks in disjointed phrases. His recent stumbles while climbing the steps of Air Force One were painful to watch…
But the press conference was fine:
Biden was good. He called on about 10 or 11 reporters and held forth for an hour or so. His habit of trailing off mid-thought is probably more an indication of deciding not to say something than of losing his train of thought. At least, that’s the benefit of the doubt we should give him for now.
If anything, Thursday’s long-anticipated news conference was pretty dry and boring. If he does it only once in a blue moon, that will probably be just fine.
But this was more than dry and boring. Karen Tumulty saw this:
In the tradition of most modern chief executives, Joe Biden arrived at his first formal presidential news conference with a nugget to announce: He was doubling his initial goal and would assure that 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots would be administered to the American public in his first 100 days in office.
So it was perhaps odd that the president got no questions from reporters about the pandemic that in the past year has killed nearly 550,000 Americans, devastated the economy and upended just about every aspect of daily life in this country.
But it was also, in a way, a compliment to the Biden administration’s management of the epidemic that is the White House’s most urgent priority, an acknowledgment that at last it has begun to feel that the situation is coming under control.
While the news conference stagecraft was a reminder that we are not back to normal — journalists were wearing masks, and their seats were spaced out for safety – Biden confidently declared: “Help is here, and hope is on the way.”
And maybe that’s true in Georgia too. Holding steady might be a good idea. It’s time for that.