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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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Georgia runoffs will decide control of U.S. Senate Tuesday

President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden both rally the Peach State faithful on campaign’s closing day

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — With control of the U.S. Senate and the legislative prospects of the incoming Biden administration hanging in the balance, voters across Georgia will go to the polls Tuesday to decide two U.S. Senate runoffs, after both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden made last-minute appeals to supporters Monday.

Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide. In the other race, Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church making his first bid for elected office.

From top left: Ossoff, Perdue, , Loeffler, Warnock

In-person polling runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, although more than 3 million people have already cast their ballots through early and absentee voting.

If Ossoff and Warnock win, the Senate will be split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking the tie to give Democrats control.

If either Loeffler or Perdue win, Republicans will control the upper chamber, giving them a check against Biden’s legislative program and approval of his nominees.

With Senate control on the line, the four candidates and outside groups have poured more than $882 million into the races — about $83 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Biden emphasized the unusual impact that voters in a single state can have during an address to a rally Monday in Atlanta, where he told Peach State supporters that they “can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation.”

“Georgia — the whole nation is looking to you,” Biden said. “The power is literally in your hands, unlike any time in my career.”

The president-elect spent most of his 16-minute speech touting Ossoff and Warnock, saying their election will help move coronavirus relief through Congress, “restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now.”

He also had harsh words for what he termed the Trump’s administration’s “God-awful” rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, using the issue to take a swipe a Trump for his singular focus on election fraud claims since his loss in November.

“The president spends more time whining and complaining than doing something about the problem,” Biden said. “I don’t know why he still wants the job. He doesn’t want to do the work.”

Trump, in what was likely the last campaign rally of his presidency, spent much of his 80-minute speech in Dalton relitigating his November election loss and railing against what he termed a “rigged” process in Georgia, where he lost after the vote was recounted twice.

He also promised that he would produce new information that would change the election outcome and gave a lengthy recitation of fraud allegations that have been repeatedly rejected by elections officials in several states and in every court where lawsuits have been filed.

Trump also cast the consequences of Tuesday’s vote in Georgia in apocalyptic terms, casting Ossoff and Warnock as radical socialists who don’t reflect Georgia values.

“The stakes of this election should not be higher,” Trump said. “The radical Democrats are trying to capture Georgia’s Senate seats so they can wield unchecked, unrestrained absolute power over every aspect of your lives.”

Hanging over the last day of the campaign was a controversial phone call Trump made to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a recording of which was obtained by the news media on Saturday.

In it, the president asks the state’s top election official to “find” more than 11,000 votes to flip Georgia into his column; a local prosecutor in Atlanta says she is looking at possible criminal charges.

Neither Biden or Trump brought up the phone call in his speech, but Trump took a shot at both Raffensperger and Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who has also refused the president’s entreaties to overturn the Georgia election results.

“I’m going to be here in a year and a half, and I’m going to campaign against your crazy governor and secretary of state,” Trump said.

Also looming over Tuesday’s vote is an effort by Republicans in Congress to challenge Biden’s Electoral College win on Wednesday, turning what is normally a ceremonial event into a last-ditch effort to prevent Biden from winning the White House.

Hours before the Dalton rally with Trump, Loeffler finally announced the she would back the challenge, after refusing to take a position for several days. Perdue also said he backs the challenge, although, because his Senate term ended when the new Congress convened on Sunday, he will not vote on it.

Taking the stage next to Trump, Loeffler told the crowd that “this president fought for us. We’re going to fight for him.”

But during his speech in Atlanta, Biden hit both senators for taking a stand that he said was in defiance of the Constitution.

“You have two senators who think their loyalty is to Trump, not to Georgia,” Biden said. “You have two senators who think they’ve sworn an oath to Donald Trump, not to the United States Constitution.”

In his speech, Trump also alluded to the fact that Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the session Wednesday where the Electoral College votes will be counted.

“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he said, then joked that “of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him as much.”

The unprecedented spectacle of two Senate runoff elections on the same day in Georgia is the result of a Senate vacancy and an unusual feature of state law that requires candidates in general elections to secure an outright majority to win.

Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year by Kemp to replace Johnny Isakson, who retired due to ill health. That triggered a special election to fill the two remaining years in Isakson’s turn, which featured an all-party contest in November in which the top two vote-getters — Warnock and Loeffler — won spots in a runoff.

Perdue, running for a second term, defeated Ossoff in November’s vote but narrowly missed winning an outright majority, which Georgia law uniquely requires. So the two men are facing each other again Tuesday.

Perdue has been off the campaign trail in quarantine after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and he did not appear with Trump at Monday’s night rally.

The four candidates in the race have, combined, raised more than $445 million, with outside groups adding at least another $437, according to figures from OpenSecrets.org.

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2020 Overtime: Runoffs in 2 Georgia U.S. Senate races will decide party control

Democrats face uphill battle in flipping both Georgia seats in January 5 vote

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Attention, Georgians: Prepare to have your Thanksgiving interrupted by politics. And your Christmas. And your New Year’s.

Runoffs will be held January 5 for both of the Peach State’s U.S. Senate seats, with party control of the Senate hanging in the balance, which will nationalize these contests and draw an avalanche of money and advertising.

If Democrats win both runoffs, the party will control the White House and both the U.S. House and Senate starting next January 20. If Republicans win just one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will remain large and in charge — and standing in their way.

The stakes were summarized by one of the Republicans defending a Georgia seat, Kelly Loeffler, on Twitter after networks projected Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential contest: She said she and Republican seatmate David Perdueare the last line of defense against the radical left.”

Jon Ossoff and David Perdue

Perdue defeated his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, on election night, but fell just below the 50% threshold he needed to win the seat outright and avoid a runoff. (Georgia is the only state in the country that requires candidates to win a majority in a general election.)

In a special election to fill out the remainder of Republican Johnny Isakson’s term, Loeffler, who was appointed to the seat last year, faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church making his political debut.

The runoffs take on additional importance now that Democrat Kamala Harris has been elected as vice president. Currently, the Senate Republican caucus has 50 members, the Democratic caucus, 48. If Democrats win both Georgia seats, the balance in the chamber will stand at 50-50; Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, will give Democrats control.

However, Democrats will have an uphill battle in both runoff races.

Perdue came in nearly 93,000 votes ahead of Ossoff in the November 3 vote, which the Democrat will have to find a way to make up in what is likely to be a much smaller electorate in January.

Raphael Warnock and Kelly Loeffler

In the special election, which had 20 candidates running in the first round, Warnock held a 140,000-vote lead over Loeffler. However, the six Republican candidates in the race drew nearly 415,000 more votes combined than the eight Democrats.

Over the last 30 years, Republicans have won six of the seven statewide general election runoffs, including two in 2018. Democrats lost runoffs for U.S. Senate in 1992 and 2008, contests where their candidates had finished in first place in the first round.

Meeting with a group of supporters Friday, Ossoff expressed confidence he could turn the vote around.

“We have all the momentum. We have all the energy. We’re on the right side of history,” he said. “We’re just getting started.”

But Perdue’s campaign manager, Ben Fry, expressed similar confidence, saying “If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win.”

He also took a dig at Ossoff, who lost a runoff for a U.S. House seat in 2017, noting that “[t]here’s only one candidate in this race who has ever lost a runoff, and it isn’t David Perdue.”

Speaking to her supporters on election night, Loeffler made it clear that she will cast the election as a battle between “conservative values” and the “radical left.”

“In January, I have one of the most radical opponents on the Democrat ticket in the whole country,” she said.

But Warnock, like Ossoff, is touting himself as a sign that Georgia politics have changed, an argument that could take on new resonance if Biden secures the state’s 16 electoral votes after an impending recount.

“Something special and transformational is happening right here in Georgia,” he said. “The people — everyday people, ordinary people — are rising up, and they are demanding change.”

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Racist? Georgia U.S. Senator David Perdue under fire for mocking Kamala Harris

Perdue mispronounces first name of Democratic vice presidential nominee

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MACON, Georgia (CFP) — In the middle of a close re-election race, Georgia Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue is under fire for mispronouncing the name of Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris during a rally with President Donald Trump Friday in Macon.

“KA-ma-la or Ka-MA-la? Ka-MA-la-ma-la-ma-la? I don’t know. Whatever,” Perdue told the crowd of cheering Trump supporters, creating a video that has since gone viral–and drawn rebukes from critics who are calling the mispronunciation deliberate and racist.

Video at end of story

“Senator Perdue never would have done this to a male colleague. Or a white colleague,” his Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff said on Twitter. “And everyone knows it.”

Harris is the first woman of color, and only the third woman, on a presidential ticket.

U.S. Senator David Perdue, R-Georgia, speaks at Trump rally (YouTube)

Perdue has served alongside Harris in the Senate since 2017. They also are both members of the Senate Budget Committee, which has just 19 members.

A spokesman for Perdue’s campaign, John Burke, responded on Twitter that “Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris’ name, and he didn’t mean anything by it. He was making an argument against the radical socialist agenda that she and her endorsed candidate Jon Ossoff are pushing.”

President Trump also mispronounces Harris’s name during rallies to draw a response from the crowd.

Less than three weeks before the November election, Perdue and Ossoff are locked in a tight race, with polls showing no clear leader. Trump also appears in danger of losing Georgia, which prompted his visit to Macon.

A Democrat hasn’t won the presidential race in Georgia since 1992 or a Senate race since 2000.

The effect Friday’s viral moment might have on the outcome is unclear. Nearly a third of the state’s voters are African American.

In 2006, in a U.S. Senate race in Virginia, the Republican incumbent, George Allen, created a firestorm after being captured on video calling an Indian-American supporter of his challenger “Macaca.” Allen lost.

10 takeaways from the second 2020 Democratic debate

Kamala Harris draws blood on Joe Biden on race issue; Sanders stands pat as grumpy socialist

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MIAMI (CFP) — The second flight of 10 Democrats took the stage in Miami Thursday night for the second of two nights of debate among the more than two dozen candidates running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Here’s a recap of some of the key takeaways from the proceedings:

Kamala Harris challenges Joe Biden on race during Democratic debate (From MSNBC)

1. Race and Fireworks: The tussle of the night — and the clip every network will play for days — was between former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California. It began when an emotional Harris took aim at Biden for his recent comments that he was able to work with segregationist senators in the past, which she called “hurtful.” “I will tell you on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats,” she said, explaining how she benefited from school busing in the 1970s, which Biden opposed at the time. Biden, his anger rising, was having none of it: “I did not praise racists. This is not true,” he said, before launching into a somewhat disjointed defense of his record on civil rights, which ended awkwardly when he noted that his time was up. The former vice president seemed a bit rattled after the exchange, although he recovered his equilibrium later in the debate.

2. Bernie Being Bernie: The most consistent performer on the stage was U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who, in his own indomitable style, stuck to his battle-tested positions on the need for a political revolution to take America back from the greedy, unscrupulous capitalist class. Asked how he, as a older white man, could represent the party’s diversity, he stuck to his economic line: “How come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she was making 45 years ago … We need a party that is diverse, but we need a party that has guts.” Love him or hate him, this is one grumpy socialist who knows his own mind and never wavers — and does it all at the top of his lungs.

3. South Bend Shooting: Mayor Pete Buttegieg had to handle a hot potato question about a shooting of a black man by a white police officer in the city he leads, South Bend, Indiana. “It’s a mess, and we’re hurting … I have to face the fact that nothing I can say will bring (the victim) back,” he said. And while conceding that he has not been able as mayor to bring more diversity to the city’s mostly white police force, he also said that the investigation into the shooting needs to run its course — and ignored a shouted demand from U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California that he fire the officer involved.

4. Generational Dust-Up: Swalwell got in a pointed dig at Biden by quoting a speech that the septuagenarian former vice president made calling for passing the torch to a new generation of leadership — 32 years ago, when Swalwell was 6. That set off a cacophony of cross-talk that only ended when Harris managed to get off the line of the night: “Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on the table.”

5. Private Insurance Fault Line: When asked by the moderator if they supported abolishing private health insurance as part of a Medicare-for-all plan, only two candidates — Sanders and Harris — raised their hands. Sanders offered a robust defense of the idea, saying that if other major countries such as Britain and Canada can operate a health care system for their citizens, the United States should be able to do the same. The biggest pushback on eliminating private insurance came from U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who noted that Canada has just a tenth of the population of the United States, and Biden, who touted his role in passing Obamacare and said he had no intention of scrapping it. Buttigieg proposed a mixture of public and private plans that he called “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it.”

6. At Back of the Pack: Unlike in the first debate, when former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro had a breakout performance, none of the candidates lagging at the back of the pack turned in a performance that is likely to move the needle. Bennet did manage to grab a bit of air time; Swalwell tried to create moments on gun control and his calls for generational change; and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York tried to do the same with her support for legal abortion. But neither they nor former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper are likely to play much of a role in the post-debate conversation.

7. Stepping Up The Trump Attacks: The candidates in the second debate had clearly paid attention to pundits’ commentary after the first debate that President Donald Trump had not been sufficiently targeted. They stepped up the rhetoric against the president, particularly on his immigration policies. As Sanders put it, with his characteristic subtlety: “Trump is a phony. Trump is a pathological liar and a racist.”

8. Making News: Very little of what the candidates said during the debate was unexpected or made much news, with one exception — Gillibrand said that if elected, “my first act will be to engage Iran to stabilize the Middle East,” which would change 40 years of official hostility to the imams in Tehran.

9. Um, Why Were These People on the Stage? Democrats did nothing to burnish their reputation for seriousness by including new age guru Marianne Williamson and tech bro Andrew Yang as part of the debate, both of whom seemed hopelessly out of place and, frankly, in the way. It was perhaps not as silly as hosting Kim Kardashian, but it was close. Yang, to his credit, was mostly mute and later complained that his microphone had been turned off (if only); Williamson, alas, opted to interject herself with any number of peculiar observations, including that her first phone call as president would be to the president of New Zealand (which, by the way, doesn’t have a president) and that she was going to “harness love” to beat Trump. Good luck with that.

10. Winners and Losers: The winner of the night was clearly Harris, who managed to make herself look  presidential and take a bite out of Biden. The biggest loser of the evening was Biden, who, as the front-runner, needed to stay above the fray, but, by letting Harris get under his skin, may have punctured his aura of invincibility. Sanders and Buttigieg did no harm to their prospects, but Gillibrand clearly suffered in comparison to Harris, the only other woman on the stage.

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