President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit several Atlanta area civil rights landmarks today. The pair are scheduled to make remarks at Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College, two historically Black schools, then lay a wreath at Dr. Martin Luther King’s grave, and visit Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. King’s pulpit (which was also formerly Sen. Raphael Warnock’s pulpit).
Given their schedule, I have to ask what do they plan to do on the actual Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, since they’ve done it all today? But that’s not the point I’m making today. Today is more about who isn’t there, namely,
Governor Stacey Abrams.
The topic of today’s whirlwind tour is voting rights. How do I know? Abrams tweeted it.
This raises the question: why is Abrams, along with several other voting rights groups, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “boycotting” the president and vice president’s visit today? There’s quite a bit of shade being thrown at Biden here:
“We’re beyond speeches; we’re beyond events,” said Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown.
Along with the frustrations about the progress itself, some senior Democrats have been grumbling about the visit since it was announced, complaining about the lack of coordination or questioning why Biden is visiting Georgia rather than working in Washington to break the logjam.
The Hill reported that the NAACP and Project Democracy will also skip the president’s events, which will be attended by former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms, and Georgia’s all Democrat Senators Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
Abrams is busy running against Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who she has (without evidence) constantly accused of rigging the 2018 election that she lost by over 50,000 votes. But she and Biden have plenty of bones to pick between them. In 2019, Biden pledged to pick a woman vice president for his ticket, and his advisers were strongly looking at Abrams, who was the darling of the DNC for her Georgia playbook. Abrams played coy with Biden, keeping her options open to run for the Senate, and was ultimately passed over.
A May 2020 New York Times piece portrayed Abrams as ultra-ambitious, that she “wants more than the vice presidency.” That turned off the Biden camp, and by late spring, their relationship seemed to sour. Abrams was conspicuously left off the speakers list for the DNC national convention, despite actively and publicly contending for the VP slot.
Now with Biden’s approval numbers in the cellar, Abrams is capitalizing on her star power and doesn’t want any of it to be smeared off by the moribund president, who has failed to pass any of his sweeping transformative legislative agenda. In fact, in Biden, we’re pretty much seeing a continuation of the Trump presidency’s policies, with a different patina of speeches and a decidedly less tumultuous West Wing (though in many ways, it meets or exceeds the incompetence of The Former Guy’s crew).
Biden’s last hope for putting points on the board seems to be with voting rights, a perennial Democrat talking point, but rarely one that sees legislative success. Both H.R. 1 “For The People Act” and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are dead in the Senate, and can only advance if the filibuster is killed. But despite a yearlong press assault pitting the filibuster against the survival of democracy itself, it seems the Senate is in no mood to end it; at least two Democrats, Sens. Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin, have pledged to leave the filibuster in place.
They are probably not the only two who see the long game, but they have the least to lose by publicly advocating the minority party’s rights. Given the 2022 landscape for Congress, preserving the one major cornerstone of the Senate’s minority power seems to be a smart play.
So if the filibuster isn’t going anywhere, and the voting rights legislation is pretty much dead, why are Biden and Harris here in Atlanta? It seems they’re desperate to latch on to an issue that Stacey Abrams, architect of the Democrats takeover of the Senate (with a major assist from Donald Trump), has championed. They want to rub some of her star power, and Abrams is happy to return the snub she suffered in 2020.
This just means that everything the New York Times, and Time wrote about Abrams having a bigger agenda than just playing second fiddle in Washington is true. Abrams plays the long game, and she wants to be governor of Georgia (a title she pretty much claims just like Trump claims he should still be POTUS). After Georgia, Abrams wants the White House. It’s that simple. She’s focused like a laser: a female, plumper version of Barack Obama.
Biden is no obstacle to Abrams’ goals, and therefore the snub fest will continue. Abrams knows the current crop of voting rights bills is nearly certain to fail, and she will not link herself to anything with the smell of failure. There’s no love between Biden and Abrams. Behind Abrams’ Cheshire cat smile and tweeted welcomes, there’s only cold, calculating power.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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