Georgia voting rights groups boycott Biden's Atlanta speech: 'We don't need even more photo ops. We need action'

A coalition of voting rights groups in Georgia announced that they will not attend events surrounding President Joe Biden's expected visit to Atlanta.

By Nicole Chavez, CNN

(CNN) -- A coalition of voting rights groups in Georgia announced Monday that they will not attend events surrounding President Joe Biden's expected visit to Atlanta, urging for concrete action instead of what they called a "photo op."

Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, and representatives of several voting rights groups urged Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to remain in Washington on Tuesday if they don't have a clear plan to advance voting rights legislation. Some of the groups that urged Biden to skip his Atlanta trip are the Asian American Advocacy Fund, GALEO Impact Fund Inc. and New Georgia Project Action Fund.

"We don't need even more photo ops. 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," Albright told reporters on Monday.

Several major civil rights leaders are scheduled to attend Biden and Harris' speeches in Atlanta on Tuesday, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League; Derrick Johnson, the head of the NAACP; Melanie Campbell, the chief executive of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and many other civil rights and voting rights leaders will also be attending.

But the decision by the coalition of voting groups to skip the speech underscores the risks to Biden and Democrats of failure on voting rights legislation as crucial midterm elections loom. Republicans in state legislatures around the country have tightened voting laws and installed loyalists to former President Donald Trump on election boards. Two major pieces of legislation that would aim to counteract these GOP measures are stalled in the Senate, unable to overcome the 60-vote filibuster rule needed to end debate on a bill, leading to growing frustration among activists.

The President has given several speeches on voting rights since taking office, but Senate Democrats still do not have a clear path forward to secure a new federal voting measure.

Biden and Harris are expected to travel to Atlanta on Tuesday in an effort to galvanize support behind the voting rights legislation. Democrats in Congress are preparing to advance the two measures, which will require a weakening of Senate filibuster rules in order to pass.

Albright told reporters that Biden should forgo speeches and "give a clear call" for the filibuster rules to be modified.

The President has previously stated he would back a rule change on the filibuster to pass voting rights bills, but he hasn't specified the parameters for the changes or laid out his reasoning in extensive detail. On Tuesday, he is preparing to spell out more clearly what those changes could look like, according to people familiar with his plans.

The groups will be continuing their work to advance voting rights in the state and plan to deliver a response to Biden's message on Tuesday, Albright said.

Phi Nguyen, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, addressed the President and vice president, saying, "We beg you to stay in Washington tomorrow because we don't need you here in Georgia."

"We need legislation that will ensure that our democracy accurately reflects the growing diversity of this state and of this country. Mr. President and Madam Vice President, we beg you to ground that plane the same way that we continue to beg you to ground the planes of so many of our community members who are being deported because we still lack a pathway to citizenship," Nguyen said.

Vyanti Joseph, organizing director for the Asian American Advocacy Fund, said Harris had met with some groups last year and shared her willingness to "keep pushing on voting rights." So far, Joseph said, advocates "have not seen any progress on those promises."

"It is not the time for another visit. Georgia voters need voting rights today so we can continue to do our work here," Joseph said.

"Part of Georgia activists and advocates have been responding to attack after attack on our voting rights with little support from the White House. We call on our President and vice president today to stay in Washington and to act quickly," Joseph added.

Pressure from advocates has been intensifying on Biden and lawmakers to act on federal voting rights bills that have stalled in Congress.

Last month, Martin Luther King III, his wife, Arndrea Waters King, and their daughter, Yolanda Renee King, called for "no celebration" of MLK Day without the passage of voting rights legislation.

The Kings plan to mobilize activists on MLK weekend and march across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC, on January 17.

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