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Sound and Fury: Will Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s impassioned speeches impact voting rights results?

White House chooses historic, symbolic setting in Atlanta to draw line in the sand with Republicans, Democrats hesitant about changing filibuster

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — The setting was both symbolic and historic. To promote their push for federal voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris chose Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, and spoke on the campus shared by three historically black colleges with a rich legacy of activism.

biden voting rights

President Joe Biden gives major address on voting rights in Atlanta (From YouTube)

Georgia is also the state where Republicans undertook a wholesale revision of state election laws after Biden carried the state in 2020 and Democrats flipped two U.S. Senate seats, based on claims of voting fraud for which no evidence has yet to emerge.

However, whether Biden and Harris’s dramatic exhortations will affect the outcome of the Senate vote in the coming days remains very much up in the air.

While that result could have impact nationwide, it will be of particular interest in three Southern states – Georgia, Florida and Texas – where Republicans control the political machinery and are striving to thwart any Democratic advance by reworking the rules to their advantage.

If the 50 Democrats in the Senate don’t unite to find a way around united Republican opposition to the bill, Democrats in Georgia fear their 2020 breakthrough will be short-lived, and the uphill task Democrats face in Texas and Florida will be even steeper.

The headline from Biden’s January 11 speech was his most full-throated endorsement yet of changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to advance the voting rights legislation on a simple majority vote.

Biden argued that if state legislatures, in the South and elsewhere, can pass laws restricting mail and in-person voting, ballot drop boxes, and even handing out food and water to voters stuck in long lines, then senators should be able to stop them with the same simple majority.

But U.S. senators, perhaps above all else, enjoy their perks and traditions, and the filibuster, which allows a small number of senators to thwart the will of a majority, is one of the most cherished.

In essence, it makes every senator a king, which can go to some of their heads.

From a small “d” democratic perspective, the filibuster is indefensible; indeed, no state legislature anywhere in the country operates this way.

But its supporters – currently led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – argue that it acts as a check on the untrammeled will of a majority.

Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney even advanced an argument to support the filibuster that is the stuff of Democratic nightmares — what if Donald Trump wins in 2024, Republicans control both houses of Congress, and Democrats have no tools to stop them from doing whatever they want?

Support for the filibuster is not just a Republican view – it is also held by some Democrats, including most notably, but not exclusively, by West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Until recently, it was held by Biden himself.

Manchin, who as a former secretary of state once oversaw elections in his home state, has expressed support for the underlying voting rights legislation. Indeed, the version the Senate is now considering, the Freedom to Vote Act, was written by Manchin as part of a quixotic quest to find a bipartisan way forward.

But Manchin has made it clear that even though he wrote the bill, he won’t blow up the filibuster to get it passed, and he wants any change in Senate rules to be made on a bipartisan basis, which McConnell has made clear isn’t going to happen.

Biden apparently believes that his Atlanta speech – which cast the senators’ filibuster vote not in institutional Senate terms but as a moral issue of right or wrong, justice or injustice – will change Manchin’s mind, even though the West Virginian has given little indication he’s receptive to that argument.

Biden and Harris drew a rhetorical line in the sand, with sharp language; Biden went so far as to liken opponents of moving forward with voting rights legislation to George Wallace and Jefferson Davis. The president and vice present took an unambiguous, firm stand that will no doubt please the Democratic base and voting rights activists, some of whom boycotted the speech to protest what they see as lack of action from the White House.

But the line having been drawn, it is also unclear what the next steps might be if Manchin and other Democrats balk at the filibuster reform needed to get the bills through. There can be political benefit in trying and failing; there’s much less political wisdom in trying something when there isn’t a clear way forward.

In his speech, Biden also castigated Republican senators for unanimously opposing this voting rights legislation, contrasting that position with the actions of Republican senators in the past (including Strom Thurmond) and Republican presidents who supported extensions of the Voting Rights Act.

Yet, that denies the reality that some Republican senators’ objections are not to voting rights per se but specific parts of this legislation, including limits on partisan gerrymandering, greater federal oversight of state elections, changes to campaign financing laws, and a fund to match donor contributions to political campaigns.

Opposing creation of a vehicle to lavish more money to the political grifter class, or defending the primacy of states in election administration as set out in the Constitution, does not make someone Bull Connor. Romney and Maine’s Susan Collins are not opposing this because they are power-mad racists bent on the destruction of democracy, and, one might argue, casting them as such isn’t likely to change their minds.

Democrats have a strong argument here that Republican efforts to change voting laws aren’t necessary because the rationale on which they are based – that the 2020 election was rife with fraud – is specious. It is also the case that the changes will make it more difficult for Democrats to win elections in Georgia, Florida, Texas and elsewhere, which Democrats should oppose out of plain common sense.

But the ultimate success of Biden and Harris’s sound and fury — casting the fight over this legislation as a black-or-white moral imperative and its opponents as maliciously misguided — is rather less clear.

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Democrat Joe Manchin deals death blow to Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill

West Virginia senator drops bomb in TV interview, enraging Democratic left and earning White House rebuke

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) – For more than five months, the political class, and the chattering class, in Washington have been obsessed with one question: Will West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin support President Joe Biden’s ambitious $2 trillion Build Back Better plan, or won’t he?

In one of the year’s most dramatic political interviews, Manchin gave his final answer Sunday morning.

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West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin announces decision on Build Back Better on Fox News Sunday

Joe’s a no. And with every Republican in the Senate also opposed, his no – if he doesn’t change his mind – deals a death blow to the bill in the evenly divided chamber.

“If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it,” Manchin said on Fox News Sunday. “And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t.”

Moderator Brett Baier, who appeared to be taken aback by Manchin’s bombshell, asked, “This is a no?”

“This is no,” Manchin quietly repeated.

Watch Manchin’s full interview on Fox News Sunday

His announcement came at the end of a tense week of negotiations over Build Back Better before senators left town for their Christmas break. Manchin had been the subject of intense media attention and pressure from colleagues and the White House, prompting the usually amiable lawmaker to lose his temper at one point and shout an explicative at a reporter.

Politico reported that just before he was about to go on the air Sunday, Manchin dispatched an aide to the White House to let administration officials know what was about to happen – and then rebuffed a phone call to try to get him to change his mind.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki then released a statement with extraordinarily strong language aimed at a senator from the president’s own party.

“Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on Fox are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” Psaki said. “They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”

Manchin explained that his decision was driven by concerns about inflation, the federal debt, and the looming specter that the COVID-19 omicron variant will extend the duration and severity of the pandemic.

He also complained that Democrats pushing the bill were trying to disguise the full, eventual cost of the total package by artificially phasing out provisions after short periods of time, rather than funding a smaller, more affordable package of priorities for a 10-year period.

“That’s not being genuine with my constituents in West Virginia,” he said, pointing to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that fully funding all of the priorities in the bill for 10 years would cost $4.5 trillion.

But those explanations fell flat with many of his Democratic colleagues, who erupted at the news of his decision.

“I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell them why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies to lower the costs of prescription drugs, why he is not prepared to expand home health care” said Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said Manchin “has betrayed his commitment not only to the President and Democrats in Congress but most importantly, to the American people.”

“He routinely touts that he is a man of his word, but he can no longer say that. West Virginians, and the country, see clearly who he is,” Jayapal said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Texas U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett likened Manchin to the Grinch who “just stole Christmas for many and don’t expect any last minute Dr. Seuss happy ending.”

“After 6 months of talking and talking, Joe Manchin finally made it unequivocal … he’s with the Republicans,” Doggett said in a Tweet. “What an outrage!”

Lawmakers on the Democratic left who style themselves as “Progressives” were particularly irked because they reluctantly agreed to go along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin supported in exchange for a promise from Biden to push Build Back Better through the Senate.

However, New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez — who refused to go along with that bargain — tweeted out an I-told-you-so after Manchin’s appearance on Fox.

“People can be mad at Manchin all they want, but we knew he would do this months ago,” she tweeted. “Where we need answers from are the leaders who promised a path on [Build Back Better] if [infrastructure] passed: Biden & Dem leaders … So they need to fix it.”

Sanders said he wants the Senate to vote on Build Back Better, even if it fails, saying if Manchin “doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

However, Manchin told Baier that he has no problem with a Senate vote on the bill – which he will oppose.

“I’ve tried everything humanly possible,” he said. “I can’t get there.”

Manchin’s no is unlikely to harm him politically in West Virginia. Even though the state has many economically disadvantaged residents who would benefit from Biden’s social spending, it is also deeply conservative, handing Biden a 39-point loss in 2020.

Manchin, who is 74, is also not up for re-election until 2024 and has been non-committal on whether he’ll run again.

However, Manchin’s increasingly bitter dispute with members of his own party is likely to heighten speculation that he might change parties (which he has dismissed) or leave the Democrats to become independent, which he had previously offered to do if he became a “problem” for his caucus.

A party switch would flip control of the Senate to Republicans, which could also happen if he left to become an independent but caucused with the GOP.

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Georgia GOP Civil War: David Perdue will try to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp

Perdue launches primary fight with incumbent after Donald Trump’s encouragement

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) – Former Georgia U.S. Senator David Perdue is running to unseat fellow Republican and former political ally Governor Brian Kemp in next May’s party primary, setting off what’s likely to be a contentious and divisive battle armed with an endorsement from Donald Trump.

perdue announcement

Former Georgia U.S. Senator David Perdue announces run for governor

Perdue launched his campaign in a December 6 video, in which he said Kemp can’t beat likely Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams and blaming him, rather than Trump, for the loss of two U.S. Senate runoffs in January.

“I like Brian. This isn’t personal. It’s simple. He failed all of us and cannot win in November,” Perdue said. “If our governor was ever going to fight for us, wouldn’t ne have done it already?”

Perdue also cast the prospect of Abrams as governor in apocalyptic terms.

“Make no mistake – Abrams will smile, lie and cheat to try and transform Georgia into her radical vision of the state that would look more like California or New York,” he said. “Over my dead body will we ever give Stacey Abrams control of our elections again.”

Video of Perdue’s announcement at end of story

Perdue, 71, was elected to the Senate in 2014. He lost his seat in January when he was defeated by Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff in a runoff.

He and his politically connected family had, until Monday’s announcement, been allies of Kemp. Perdue’s cousin, former Governor Sonny Perdue, appointed Kemp as secretary of state in 2010 and helped persuade Trump to endorse Kemp during his first run for governor in 2018.

One of the key issues in the primary campaign will be who is responsible for Republicans losing both Perdue’s seat and the seat of Kelly Loeffler in the January runoffs, which came two months after Joe Biden became the first Democrat to carry Georgia in 28 years.

In his launch video, Perdue implied that the decision by Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to enter into a consent agreement with a voting rights group led by Abrams about verification of absentee ballot signatures led to the GOP’s defeat – a theory Trump has repeatedly advanced.

“Instead of protecting our elections, he caved into Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free rein,” he said.

However, three different audits of Georgia’s 2020 election results have turned up no evidence of absentee ballot fraud. And results of the runoffs show that Perdue and Loeffler may have been done in by weak Republican turnout, after weeks of claims by Trump that state elections couldn’t be trusted.

Both Kemp and Raffensperger, who is in charge of state elections, refused to go along with attempts by Trump to overturn the state’s results, which are now the subject of a criminal investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Trump turned on both Kemp and Raffensperger after the November election and has been encouraging primary challengers to unseat both of them.  He enthusiastically greeted the news of Perdue’s candidacy and offered what he termed “my Complete and Total Endorsement.”

“This will be very interesting, and I can’t imagine that Brian Kemp, who has hurt election integrity in Georgia so badly, can do well at the ballot box (unless the election is rigged, of course),” Trump said in a statement.

There was no immediate response from Kemp to Perdue’s announcement, although the Washington Post quoted a Kemp spokesman as saying Perdue was running to “soothe his own bruised ego” after losing the Senate race.

As Kemp and Perdue battle it out on the Republican side, Abrams – who lost to Kemp by 55,000 votes in 2018 — is likely to face only token opposition in her primary, allowing her to save money for the November general election.

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Glenn Youngkin, Republicans sweep all 3 Virginia statewide races

Youngkin beats Democrat Terry McAuliffe in governor’s race; Republicans also win races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, on track to flip House of Delegates

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

VirginiaRICHMOND (CFP) — Republican Glenn Youngkin claimed Virginia’s governorship in Tuesday’s off-year election, defeating Democratic insider Terry McAuliffe in an embarrassing loss for Democrats just a year after President Joe Biden swept to a 10-point win in the Old Dominion.

Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin addresses supporters

Republicans also won the lieutenant governorship and defeated two-term Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring. GOP legislative candidates also appear to have flipped enough seats to take control of the House of Delegates.

For the past two years, Democrats have controlled all of the levers of power in Richmond, ushering in a series of liberal polity initiatives that incensed conservatives; come January, Democrats will control only the State Senate, by just a single vote.

Youngkin, a wealthy private equity executive making his first run for political office, took 51% to 48% for McAuliffe, who was trying to return to the governor’s seat he held from 2014 to 2018.

Speaking to jubilant supporters, Youngkin called his victory “a defining moment that is now millions of Virginians walking together.”

“We are going to change the trajectory of this commonwealth,” he said. “It’s time for Virginia to be the place where everyone wants to live, not leave — where the relentless pursuit for a better life, for prosperity, is not burdened or blocked by self-interested politicians.”

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican Winsome Sears, a businesswoman and former state delegate, defeated Democratic State Delegate Hala Ayala by a margin of 51% to 49% percent. She will be the first woman and woman of color to hold the state’s second-highest office, which includes presiding over the closely divided State Senate, which was not up for election Tuesday.

In the attorney general’s race, Republican State Delegate Jason Miyares defeated Herring by a margin of 51% to 49% percent, giving Republicans a post from which to launch legal challenges against Biden administration policies.

All 100 seats in the House of Delegates were up on Tuesday, with Democrats holding a 55-to-45 majority. With 10 races still undecided, Republicans had won or were leading in races for 51 seats, with Democrats winning or leading in 49, which would give the GOP a one-seat majority.

Youngkin had been endorsed by Donald Trump, although he did not invite the former president to come to Virginia to campaign for him.

McAuliffe hung Trump’s endorsement around Youngkin’s neck, hoping antipathy to Trump in the Washington D.C. suburbs would sink his chances statewide. But Youngkin used cultural issues and parental anger over school policies to outperform Trump in suburban areas and also increased Republican margins in areas Trump won, which could be a GOP blueprint for 2022.

This year’s election was the first since Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature in 2019 and embarked on a series of policy changes that drastically altered the political complexion of the Old Dominion.

The Democratic majority abolished the death penalty, legalized recreational marijuana, imposed background checks for gun purchases, eliminated waiting periods for abortions, protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment and housing, and gave cities and counties the green light to remove Confederate monuments.

Legislators even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.

Republicans used the backlash to Democrats’ shift to the left in Richmond that allowed them to flip the House and win the commonwealth’s three statewide offices.

Once reliably Republican, Virginia has shifted toward the Democrats over the last decade. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, as are seven of its 11 members of Congress, and the last Republican presidential candidate to carry the commonwealth was George W. Bush in 2004.

Still, history was on Youngkin’s side: The Virginia governor’s race is held in the off-year after presidential elections, and since the days of Richard Nixon, the party that won the White House has lost the governorship every time — except in 2013, when McAuliffe won a year after Barack Obama did.

McAuliffe loss is likely to  reverberate in Washington, where Democrats have been struggling to pass President Joe Biden’s agenda. McAuliffe has conceded during the campaign that Biden’s popularity has waned in Virginia, although he still brought both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in to campaign with him.

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Virginians decide statewide, legislative races in Tuesday vote

Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe in tight race for governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Voters in Virginia will cast ballots Tuesday in an off-year election for statewide offices and the House of Delegates, with Republicans trying to reclaim power in a state that has been trending Democratic over the past decade.

Virginia governor candidates Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe

Topping the ballot will be the race for governor, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe is trying to reclaim the office he held from 2014 to 2018 in a race against Republican Glenn Youngkin, an multi-millionaire private equity executive making his first run for political office. Late polling has shown the race as a statistical dead heat.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Democratic State Delegate Hala Ayala from Prince William County will be facing off against Winsome Sears, a Republican businesswoman and former legislator from Winchester. The winner will be the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in state history; Ayala would also be the first Hispanic candidate to win the job.

Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking a third term against Republican State Delegate Jason Miyares from Virginia Beach, the son of a Cuban immigrant who would be the state’s first Hispanic attorney general.

Also at stake Tuesday is control of the House of Delegates, where Democrats currently hold a 55-to-45 majority. The State Senate, which Democrats control 21-to-19, is not up for election this year.

In-person polling opens Tuesday at 6 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m.

This year’s election will be the first since Democrats took control of both houses of the legislature in 2019 and embarked on a series of policy changes that drastically altered the political complexion of the Old Dominion.

The Democratic majority abolished the death penalty, legalized recreational marijuana, imposed background checks for gun purchases, eliminated waiting periods for abortions, protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment and housing, and gave cities and counties the green light to remove Confederate monuments.

Legislators even reached back into the 1970s to dust off the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify it.

Republicans are hoping that a backlash to Democrats’ shift to the left in Richmond will allow them to flip the House and win the commonwealth’s three statewide offices, which Democrats have swept in the last two elections.

Once reliably Republican, Virginia has shifted toward the Democrats over the last decade. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, as are seven of its 11 members of Congress, and the last Republican presidential candidate to carry the commonwealth was George W. Bush in 2004.

Still, history may be on Youngkin’s side: The Virginia governor’s race is held in the off-year after presidential elections, and since the days of Richard Nixon, the party that won the White House has lost the governorship every time — except in 2013, when McAuliffe won a year after Barack Obama did.

A loss by McAuliffe would reverberate in Washington, where Democrats have been struggling to pass President Joe Biden’s agenda. McAuliffe has conceded during the campaign that Biden’s popularity has waned in Virginia, although he still brought both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in to campaign with him.

By contrast, Youngkin has not invited former President Donald Trump into the state to campaign with him in person, even avoiding a rally where Trump phoned in an appearance. Trump lost Virginia to Biden by 10 points in 2020.

Virginia governors are limited to a single term, and McAuliffe is trying to become just the second person to reclaim the office for a second time. (The first was Republican Miles Godwin, who served from 1966 to 1970 and 1974 to 1978.)

While the Senate will remain in Democratic hands after Tuesday, the lieutenant governor presides over the chamber, which could cause a wrinkle for Democrats if Sears defeats Ayala.

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