By Aamer Madhani | Associated Press
President Joe Biden on Friday called a sweeping Republican-sponsored overhaul of Georgia’s elections laws “outrageous” and “an atrocity,” and urged Congress to move quickly to bolster voting rights across the nation in response.
Biden commented after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.
“It’s an atrocity,” Biden told reporters. “They passed a law saying you can’t provide water for people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote. You don’t need anything else to know this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting.”
Video: Joe Biden calls Georgia’s voting bill an ‘atrocity’
Kemp lashed back, accusing Biden of attempting to “destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box.”
In a statement, Biden assailed provisions in the Georgia law to curtail voting hours, restrict absentee ballots in ways that will effectively deny the right to vote to countless people, and make it a crime to provide water to voters while they wait in line to cast their ballots.
Democrats say the effort in Georgia and steps in Republican state legislatures elsewhere are intended to suppress the voice of minority voters.
The Republican changes to voting law in Georgia follow record-breaking turnout for Democratic victories in the presidential contest and two U.S. Senate runoffs in the once reliably red state.
Biden pressed for Congress to take action on two Democratic-sponsored bills intended to expand voting participation.
“This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” Biden said in his statement. “It must end. We have a moral and Constitutional obligation to act.” Jim Crow laws enforced heavy-handed racial segregation in the South until as late as the mid-20th century.
Defending the law, Kemp said: “There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot — every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in-person.”
The White House on Friday also criticized the arrest of Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon, who was detained as Kemp delivered remarks on the legislation. Kemp was interrupted by a commotion before a livestream of the event cut out. Cannon, who is Black, was arrested by Capitol police during a protest after knocking on the door of the governor’s office as Kemp spoke.
Video captured by a bystander shows Cannon, who is handcuffed with her arms behind her back, being forcibly removed from the Capitol by two officers, one on each arm. She says “where are you taking me?” and “stop” as she is taken from the building.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “I think anyone who saw that video would have been deeply concerned by the actions that were taken by law enforcement to arrest her when she simply, by the video that was provided, seemed to be knocking on the door to see if she could watch a bill being signed into law.”