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Georgia Law Kicks Off Partisan Battle Over Voting Rights




The fight over voting rights is emerging as one of the defining conflicts of the Biden era, and Georgia fired the opening shot with a set of new restrictions underscoring the political, legal and financial clashes that will influence whether Republicans retake Congress and the White House.

President Biden on Friday called Georgia’s new law an “attack on the Constitution” and said the Justice Department was “taking a look” at Republican voting efforts in the state.

“This is Jim Crow in the 21st century, it must end,” Mr. Biden said, a day after Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law. “I will take my case to the American people — including Republicans who joined the broadest coalition of voters ever in this past election to put country before party.

“If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.”

Civil rights groups immediately challenged the Georgia law in federal court, backed by prominent Democratic voting rights lawyers. Several Black leaders described the legal skirmishes to come as an existential fight for representation, saying the law clearly puts a target on Black and brown voters. Protests against voting restrictions unfolded this week in state capitols like Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, and more lawsuits are expected.

In more than 24 states, Republican-led legislatures are advancing bills in a broad political effort that is the most aggressive attack on the right to vote since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It follows months of Republican efforts to tarnish Mr. Biden’s presidential victory, which scores of high-level G.O.P. officials still refuse to acknowledge as legitimate.

Democrats, who have limited power in many state capitols, are looking to Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats for a new federal law to protect voting. Many in the party see the fight over voting as not just a moral cause but also a political one, given their narrow margins of victory in presidential and Senate elections in Georgia, Arizona and other battlegrounds.

Georgia’s sweeping new provisions, passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature, represent the most substantive overhaul of a battleground state’s voting system since last November’s election. It would impose stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limit drop boxes and forbid giving water and snacks to voters waiting in line.

But in a state where former President Donald J. Trump tried to persuade Republican election officials to reverse his loss, the measure went even further: It shifts the power and oversight of elections to the Legislature by stripping the secretary of state from chairing the state Board of Elections and authorizing the Legislature to name members to the board. It further empowers the state Board of Elections to have sweeping jurisdiction over county elections boards, including the authority to suspend officials.

Mr. Biden on Friday called Georgia’s new voting restrictions “un-American,” and sought to tie them to the Democrats’ push in Washington to enact the federal voting rights bill, which the House passed this month. The measure would put in place a raft of requirements intended to protect voting rights, including weakening restrictive state identification requirements, expanding early and mail-in voting and restoring voting rights to former felons.

The president said the new Georgia law was expressly what the House bill was designed to prevent. While Democrats in Congress debate abolishing the filibuster in order to pass the voting rights bill through the Senate, Republican legislators in more than 40 states have introduced hundreds of bills targeting voting access and seizing authority over administering elections.

And another crucial conflict looms this fall: the fights over redistricting to account for growing and changing populations, and the gerrymandering that will allow partisan majorities to limit the impact of votes by packing or splitting up population centers.

The gerrymandering disputes will determine the look of the House and dozens of state legislatures, in many cases locking in majorities for the next decade.

Bitter struggles over voting rights loom even in states with Democratic governors who can veto the legislation. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Republican-controlled legislatures are planning to advance restrictive bills, and new Republican governors would most likely sign them into law if they are elected next year.

“The 2020 election is behind us, but the war over the future of our democracy is escalating,” said Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who is the secretary of state in Michigan, where Republicans this week introduced numerous proposed restrictions on voting. “For anyone to believe that they can sit down and rest because the 2020 election is behind need look no further than what happened in Georgia as an indication that our work is far from over.”

Republicans, borrowing language from their previous efforts at curtailing voting access, have described the new bills as a way to make voting easier while limiting fraud. Mr. Kemp, upon signing the bill into law, said it would “make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” even though the state’s own Republican election officials found no substantive evidence of fraud.

Mr. Kemp on Friday pushed back at Mr. Biden’s criticism, saying, “There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot.”

“President Biden, the left and the national media are determined to destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box,” Mr. Kemp said. “As secretary of state, I consistently led the fight to protect Georgia elections against power-hungry, partisan activists.”

Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Georgia would serve as a model for other Republican-run states.

“The country was watching closely what Georgia would do,” Ms. Anderson said in an interview. “The fact that they were able to get these reforms through sets the tone and puts Georgia in a leadership role for other states.”

The Justice Department was aware of Georgia’s voting law, a spokeswoman said on Friday, but provided no further comment. The department’s civil rights division would most likely have lawyers investigate whether to file an independent lawsuit, said Tom Perez, the former labor secretary who also previously ran the department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration. It could also take part in the case that was filed by civil rights groups by filing a so-called statement of interest or moving to intervene as the plaintiff, he said.

But this is a precarious time for the federal protections in place. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted one of the core provisions of the Voting Rights Act, clearing the runway for much of the current legislation aimed at restricting voting. The remaining protection, in Section 2 of the act, is facing a new challenge before the Supreme Court, with arguments heard last month.

The debate is also spilling over into the corporate arena. Activists across the country have been chastising companies they see as silent on the issue of voting rights. In Georgia on Friday, numerous civil rights groups and faith leaders issued a call to boycott some of the standard-bearers of the Georgia business community — including Coca-Cola — until they took action against the effort to restrict voting access.

The early battle lines are increasingly centering on two key states that flipped from Republican to Democratic in 2020, Arizona and Georgia. Those states are also home to large populations of voters of color, who have historically faced discriminatory laws at the polls.

Two battleground states that remained in Republican control in 2020 — Texas and Florida — are also moving forward with new laws restricting voting.

In Florida, lawmakers are looking to ban drop boxes and limit who can collect ballots for other voters, among other provisions, even after an election that the Republican chair of the state party touted as the “gold standard” and that Republicans won handily.

Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican state representative who has sponsored some of the legislation, said that while the election was successful, it was “not without challenges and problems that we think we needed to fix.” He cited the use of ballot drop boxes, which he helped write into law but he said were not adequately being administered.

“They said the same thing with the last election bill, that we wrote it and they said it was voter suppression, and the exact opposite happened: We had more people vote in the state of Florida than ever before,” he said. “We have 40 days of election with three different ways to vote. How can anyone say voter suppression?”

In Arizona, Republican lawmakers have advanced legislation that would drop voters who skip consecutive election cycles from the permanent early voting list. The list currently consists of roughly 3.2 million voters, and critics of the legislation estimate it would purge roughly 100,000 voters.

Wisconsin Republicans have proposed many restrictions on the disabled, new limits on who can automatically receive an absentee ballot and a requirement that absentee voters provide photo identification for every election — as opposed to having one on file with their municipal clerk.

The measures are certain to be vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, but their sponsor, the Republican State Senator Duey Stroebel, said Friday that the legislation would encapsulate the party’s principles heading into the midterm elections.

“It will define that we as Republicans are people who want clean and fair elections in the state,” Mr. Stroebel said.

Wisconsin Democrats, confident in Mr. Evers’s veto, are eager to have a voting rights fight be front and center ahead of the 2022 elections, said State Senator Kelda Roys, a Democrat.

“People hate the idea that their right to vote is under attack,” Ms. Roys said. “The freedom to vote is just popular. It’s a great issue for Democrats.”

The torrent of Republican voting legislation, Democrats say, undermines faith in elections.

“Even in states where they won’t be passed and have been introduced, like in Colorado, they’re dangerous,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state in Colorado. “The rhetoric of lying and trying to manipulate Americans to keep political power is dangerous. It led to all the death threats that secretaries of state and election officials received in 2020. It led to the insurrection.”

Jennifer Medina, Patricia Mazzei and Katie Benner contributed reporting.


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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.





WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”


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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades





That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.


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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?





There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.


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