Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Senate Democrats are trying to reinvigorate their struggling campaign to pass elections legislation, convening a committee hearing in Georgia on Monday to highlight Republican-led changes in the state.
The new state law, which Democrats have derided as an attack on voting rights, followed former President Donald Trump's outrage over losing Georgia in last year's presidential election and his false claims about widespread fraud. "We shed a light on a really bad law that was specifically intended to disenfranchise voters and make it harder to vote," Klobuchar, a Democrat, said in an interview after the hearing of the Senate Rules Committee she chairs.
Leading Georgia Republicans have strongly defended the law, which is being challenged in court by the U.S. Department of Justice. In a call with reporters, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp accused Democrats of lying and championed the Georgia law he signed this year as "a common sense reform measure."
"It doesn't matter if it's the DOJ, the DNC or the Senate Democrats, we aren't backing down," Kemp said. "We're going to continue to fight for the truth and we're going to stand up for secure, accessible and fair elections."
In her opening remarks, Klobuchar called out parts of the Georgia law, including what she described as limits on ballot drop boxes and changes involving runoff elections in the state. For Senate Democrats, the GOP moves in Georgia have only added to their drive for federal action.
"That just cries out for why we need basic federal standards for elections," Klobuchar said in the interview.
But the partisan tensions in Georgia also reflect the opposition Democrats are seeing in Washington.
"Over the last year, Georgia has become ground zero for the sweeping voter suppression efforts we've seen gain momentum all across our country," U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from the state, said during Monday's hearing.
While Klobuchar and others have pointed to the Georgia law as an example of voter suppression, there remains no clear path for Congressional Democrats to pass legislation responding to the changes coming from some Republican-led states. Klobuchar supports getting rid of the Senate's legislative filibuster, which Republicans relied on to block Democrats' wide-ranging election bill known as the For The People Act back in June, but Democrats lack the votes to get rid of the Senate practice.
Monday was the first time in 20 years the Rules Committee held a field hearing, according to a news release from the committee. Among the witnesses who appeared was Georgia state Sen. Sally Harrell, a Democrat. She said during her time in the General Assembly she had "never seen such blatant disregard for the legislative process as I did with Senate Bill 202."
"We need your help, we desperately need your help," Harrell told the committee. "But there's no one solution to this problem, and it's not a static thing where you're going to be able to pass one bill and solve it all, because the methods keep changing."
No GOP Senators who serve on the Rules Committee attended the Georgia hearing. The most prominent defense of the state's law came not during the hearing, but from the GOP press call that included Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also criticized the hearing in a statement.
"This silly stunt is based on the same lie as all the Democrats' phony hysteria from Georgia to Texas to Washington D.C. and beyond — their efforts to pretend that moderate, mainstream state voting laws with more generous early voting provisions than blue states like New York are some kind of evil assault on our democracy," said McConnell, a member of the Rules committee.
During the November 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden pulled off a surprise upset over Trump in Georgia as he won back the White House for Democrats. Trump blamed fraud for his loss in Georgia, despite having no clear evidence. He raged against Kemp and feuded with Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger over his loss.
By the end of March, Georgia's new election legislation was signed into law. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department announced its lawsuit against Georgia, saying in a news release that "the United States' complaint contends that several provisions of Senate Bill 202 were adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race." Kemp countered in a statement that "this lawsuit is born out of the lies and misinformation the Biden administration has pushed against Georgia's Election Integrity Act from the start."
Near the end of Monday's hearing where Georgia's law was discussed at length, Klobuchar noted that "the devil is in the details in these bills."
"We've got to be as sophisticated in Washington as the people who are trying to mess with us," Klobuchar said.
Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559