ATLANTA (TBEN) — During the 2022 midterm campaign, President Joe Biden steered clear of Georgia as Senator Raphael Warnock, like many other Democrats on the battlefield, sought to distance himself from the White House amid an inflationary economy and lagging Presidential Approval Ratings.
With Warnock securing his first full term and Biden buoyed by the Democrats’ better-than-expected election results, the senator welcomes the president back to Georgia and America’s most famous black church.
The president will speak at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sunday as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Biden’s and Warnock’s aides said the invitation came from the senator, who has directed the church where King once preached for more than 17 years. The White House labeled Biden’s planned speech a “sermon”, noting that he will become the first sitting US president to speak as part of the church’s regular Sunday morning services.
White House senior adviser Keisha Lance Bottoms, a former mayor of Atlanta, said Biden will use his time in Warnock’s pulpit to “reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King and ways we can work together.” can move on”. She said he will address a number of issues, but will focus on voting rights and related legislation that languished on Capitol Hill during Biden’s first two years in office.
“The president has been very clear that voting, the right to vote and access to voting is a core component of our democracy,” Bottoms said.
King, the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968 after fomenting passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, would have celebrated his 94th birthday on Sunday. Biden will follow up his Ebenezer performance by attending the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network conference on voting rights in Washington on Monday, the federal holiday that marks King’s birthday.
The president’s stop at Ebenezer is ostensibly an official trip, not a political one. But the timing is striking as the president tries to hold his ground after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Thursday the appointment of a special counsel to investigate how the president handled classified documents.
The move, which followed revelations that some documents from Biden’s tenure as vice president were found in his Delaware residence and in a University of Pennsylvania office he used, complicates, at least politically, a federal investigation into how former President Donald Trump himself handled classified documents. . And it ends a streak of wins for Biden, who had enjoyed a drop in inflation, a rise in his approval ratings and the juxtaposition of a stable White House with a disorderly majority in the Republican House.
Biden’s chosen Atlanta location is particularly noteworthy as he looks forward to a reelection campaign in 2024 after a midterm cycle in which his political reach has been so limited. Biden won Georgia in 2020 by less than 12,000 votes out of nearly 5 million votes cast. Political observers expect Georgia to once again play a central role in the 2024 general election, joining Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona as critical battlefields.
“Georgia is a good first stop for the president… it makes perfect sense,” said Quentin Fulks, who managed Warnock’s re-election bid and is one of the names rumored for a top spot in Biden’s 2024 campaign.
Biden earned his narrow victory in Georgia over Trump in 2020 by pairing a strong black turnout with a solid performance among moderate white voters who leaned Republican but were disenchanted with Trump.
Biden relies on similar coalitions in the Great Lakes region, but Georgia is notable for its large black electorate that makes the state critical of Democratic primary politics. So important, in fact, that Biden has recommended including Georgia as an early voting state on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination calendar. Atlanta, meanwhile, is a finalist for the 2024 Democratic convention.
“We’ve shown that this will continue to be a winable state for the Democrats,” Fulks said. “It was done in a presidential election and now it is done in a midterm session.”
Bottoms framed the visit more in terms of governing than campaigning, but recognized the importance of face-to-face contacts with black leaders and activists in both. When Biden came to Georgia to give a speech on voting rights in early 2022, some activists skipped the event, dissatisfied with the government’s efforts to support the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck down key provisions a decade ago.
Bottoms said Biden planned to speak with civil rights leaders at the church. “There’s no better place to do that than Ebenezer,” she said, but gave no further details.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said Biden has done “good work” on civil rights and voting rights, given a closely divided Senate.
Prior to January, the chamber was 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving the Democrats a tie. By holding all incumbent seats in the meantime and flipping a GOP seat in Pennsylvania, the Democrats now have a 51-49 majority. But it takes 60 votes to pass major legislation, including one of the voting bills proposed by the Democrats, named after the late Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, one of Warnock’s parishioners, and the Republicans just don’t agree with it. again expanding federal power over state-run elections.
“The black community is not giving up,” said Johnson, crediting Biden for using executive orders designed to increase federal authority to ensure local jurisdictions protect voting access for minorities. “But we need policy change that comes only through Congress.”
Bottoms said Warnock and Biden had a “great conversation” on Thursday night about the meaning of their plans for Sunday.
That’s a reversal from the recent campaign, when Warnock barely mentioned Biden’s name and even when the president called to remind voters how much he pressured Biden to fulfill his 2020 campaign pledge to ease student loan burdens. to light up. Warnock celebrated Democratic achievements, including the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman on the Supreme Court, without mentioning Biden. When Warnock finally enlisted Biden’s help during a four-week campaign, it was to lead a fundraiser — in Massachusetts, without Warnock present.
Fulks said the president understood all along.
“No candidate can ever completely outrun the national environment, (and) there was no doubt when we entered this race that Georgians wanted a Republican Senate,” he said, referring to the campaign analysis of a likely Georgian interim electorate.
“For us, it wasn’t so much, ‘Is President Biden popular?’ or ‘Isn’t he popular?'” Fulks continued. “This race was about Georgia and Senator Warnock. That was the calculus.’