Endgame eludes Democrats despite voting rights urgency: The Note

The fight over voting rights has always turned on who has the votes.

January 11, 2022, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The fight over voting rights has always turned on who has the votes.

That's been true in the states that have changed their laws since 2020, whatever inspiration lawmakers might have drawn from. It's true at the federal level, where nothing substantial has changed despite repeated pushes by Democrats.

That will remain true until or unless a few Democratic senators change their minds on changing Senate rules, regardless of the new focus President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris bring to voting rights and the Senate filibuster on Tuesday.

"The question is: Where will the institution of United States Senate stand?" Biden plans to say, according to excerpts released Tuesday morning by the White House.

The Biden-Harris trip to Georgia is designed to bring fresh attention and emotion in a place where voting rights have long been and continue to be relevant. But even the urgency isn't really new; among other notable moments, last year featured the Texas Democrats' weeks-long walkout and so much attention on Georgia's new laws that Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game from Atlanta.

Those were supposed to galvanize Congress to act to override newly passed state laws. So were several major speeches by the president himself: Almost exactly six months ago, he went to the National Constitution Center to highlight what he called a "21st century Jim Crow assault," and called for a "coalition of Americans" to "raise the urgency of this moment."

It's possible that the effort to raise the urgency has and will continue to succeed -- yet it's also possible that the voting bills that passed the House still never get out of the Senate. That notion is part of the unusual pushback Biden is facing from allies, with some civil rights leaders urging the president and vice president to not even make the trip.

"We don't need another speech. What we need is action," Cliff Albright, executive director of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told reporters Monday in a conference call in advance of the visit. "What we need is a plan."

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

As Democrats renew efforts to bolster voting rights, Republicans are digging in on their positions against federal voting legislation while appearing confident in seeing a 2022 bicameral majority in their futures.

Ahead of the president's remarks in Georgia, ABC News' Mariam Khan reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laid into his Democratic colleagues on Monday, accusing them of "bullying" members into changing the Senate rules if their voting rights bills don't pass.

PHOTO: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves his office and walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves his office and walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

"The Senate Democratic leaders are trying to use a 'big lie' to bully and berate their own members into breaking their word, breaking the rules and breaking the Senate," McConnell said in a floor speech. The minority leader also went on to call Democrats' federal legislative efforts on voting laws a matter of "fake hysteria" that he said undercuts the "core identity" of the Senate.

McConnell's assertions took place against the backdrop of his House counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, mapping out early plans to punish a handful of high-profile House Democrats if Republicans take back the House and he becomes Speaker.

In an interview with Breitbart, McCarthy expressed plans to strip Reps. Adam Schiff, Ilhan Omar and Eric Swalwell from their committee assignments. All three lawmakers were painted as Republican antagonists throughout former President Donald Trump's time in office.

The TIP with Hannah Demissie

The first congressional election of 2022 is taking place Tuesday in Florida's heavily Democratic 20th Congressional District, where voters will ​head to the ballot box to fill the seat held by the late Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, who passed away in April.

After months of campaigning, Democratic contender Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a health care company executive, is favored to win over Republican candidate Jason Mariner, an advertising executive and former convict.

PHOTO: In this Nov. 21, 2021, file photo, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick speaks with the media after being declared the winner of the South Florida 20th Congressional District by the Broward elections Canvassing Board in Lauderhill, Fla.
In this Nov. 21, 2021, file photo, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick speaks with the media after being declared the winner of the South Florida 20th Congressional District by the Broward elections Canvassing Board in Lauderhill, Fla.
John McCall/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images, FILE

Many special elections wind up taking place in heavily Democratic or Republican districts, where the takeaway is the final margin more than which party wins.

If Democrats have a strong winning lead in this race, the success could lay the groundwork for motivating voters to the polls in future midterm contests.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here begins Tuesday morning with a preview of President Biden's address on voting rights from ABC's Mary Bruce. Then, we talk to Dr. John Brownstein about the record-setting number of COVID hospitalizations in the country. And, one education expert weighs in on why top universities are being sued for allegedly colluding to limit financial aid. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris travel to Atlanta, Georgia, where they pay their respects to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King by laying a wreath at their crypt at 2:40 p.m. They then visit the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and travel to Moorehouse College, where they speak at 3 p.m. on the need to pass voting rights legislation.
  • The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs holds a hearing to examine the nomination of Jerome Powell to be chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing to examine the domestic terrorism threat one year after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension holds a hearing to examine a federal perspective on the COVID-19 response, focusing on addressing new variants, at 10 a.m.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Attorney and author Bakari Sellers appear on "The View," which starts at 11 a.m.
  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Christopher Carr hold a press conference on the state's election integrity efforts at 3 p.m.
  • Florida's 20th Congressional District holds a special general election, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

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