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In Atlanta speech, Biden will advocate for protecting voting rights

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden and Vice President Harris are traveling to Atlanta today, where they're expected to make an impassioned plea to pass voting rights legislation. It's something they've done before, but this time Biden is going to take a new step. He's going to throw his support behind changing Senate rules to try to make it happen. Here to discuss is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Now, Franco, this fight over voting rights legislation has been going on for a long time, for months. What is President Biden going to say to try and get through to Americans?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, A, so first he's going to a place that's rich in symbolism on the civil rights issue - Atlanta. Biden and Harris plan to visit Ebenezer Baptist Church and lay a wreath at the crypt of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. But it's also a state where Republican lawmakers have passed laws that limit voting, one of 19 states, actually, to take this step after the 2020 election. Biden's going to describe the fight over voting rights as a turning point in the nation. And this was the theme last week, too, of course, in his speech about the January 6 insurrection. Here's actually some of what he said then.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written, not to protect the vote, but to deny it, not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it, not to strengthen or protect our democracy - because the former president lost.

MARTINEZ: All right. So there are two bills currently held up in Congress that President Biden says are critical to protecting the right to vote. What is he going to do to try and break the stalemate in Congress?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. You know, they're held up because they need 60 votes to pass. Republicans are opposed to them, and Democrats have only a narrow majority in the Senate. President Biden, who served in the Senate for decades and believes in the institution, has been reluctant to change the 60-vote threshold. That's the rule known as the filibuster. But today, the White House says he's going to say he supports changing the rules because of the importance of this issue. The problem, though, is the White House needs the support of all the Democrats in the Senate to pass any changes. And Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been expressing opposition, and others have expressed some reluctance, too. Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set a deadline of January 17 for a vote on changing the Senate rules.

MARTINEZ: Some activists in Georgia have said they plan to skip President Biden's remarks today. Why?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, they're frustrated that he hasn't put the same political muscle behind this effort as he has other parts of his domestic agenda. And they argue that his time is better spent trying to convince the Democratic senators who need to pass the rule changes instead of giving another speech. But other civil rights leaders disagree. And many prominent national leaders are traveling to Atlanta to be there for the remarks. Biden's also going to meet with the immediate family of Martin Luther King Jr. while he's there.

MARTINEZ: And what are Republicans saying about this focus on voting rights?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, the Republican National Committee is calling it a, quote, "push for a federal takeover of local elections." And they're going to have more to say about that later today. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argues voting rights are not in jeopardy. And he says Democrats are trying to, quote, "use fake hysteria to break the Senate." So it's already getting pretty ugly.

MARTINEZ: Sure is. That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks a lot.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.