Biden to touch on voting rights in sermon celebrating MLK | Ap

Biden to touch on voting rights in sermon celebrating MLK | Ap

ATLANTA (AP) — President Joe Biden is celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. with a sermon Sunday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church that aims to celebrate the civil rights leader’s legacy while addressing the Biden administration’s call for a comprehensive revitalize voting rights legislation.

Biden’s failure to enact a measure that would have strengthened voting rights protections, a key campaign promise, is one of his biggest disappointments in his first two years in office. The task is even steeper now that Republicans control the House of Representatives.

Ahead of Biden’s visit to the church where King once preached, White House officials said he was committed to campaigning for meaningful voting rights action.

The stop at Ebenezer comes at a sensitive moment for Biden after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday the appointment of a special counsel to investigate how the president handled classified documents after he left the vice presidency in 2017. The White House announced this additional secrecy on Saturday, with records found at Biden’s home near Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden became the first incumbent president to deliver the sermon on a Sunday morning in Ebenezer, said the church’s senior pastor, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, who invited Biden. “He’s a devout Catholic,” Warnock said. “This Baptist service might be a little boisterous and lively, but I saw him over there clapping his hands.”

King, whom Warnock called “the greatest American prophet of the 20th century,” served as associate pastor from 1960 until his assassination in 1968.

The Democrats’ Voting Rights Act, named after John Lewis, the late civil rights activist and congressman from Georgia, included provisions that would have made Election Day a national holiday, guaranteed access to early voting and absentee ballots, and allowed the Justice Department to intervene in states with a History of voter meddling, among other changes.

The legislation collapsed last year when two senators — Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, then a Democrat and now an independent — refused to join Democratic peers in changing Senate rules to include a Republican one to overcome filibusters. Sinema announced last month that she was changing her party affiliation, but she remains in talks with Democrats.

Warnock, like many Democrats on the battlefield who won re-election in 2022, kept his distance from Biden during the campaign as the president’s approval rating lagged and inflation rose.

But as Biden begins to turn his attention to an expected re-election in 2024, Georgia will get a lot of his attention.

In 2020, Biden managed to win Georgia as well as hard-fought Michigan and Pennsylvania, where black votes made up a disproportionate share of the Democratic electorate. Black elections in these states will be critical to Biden’s 2024 hopes.

The White House has attempted to promote Biden’s agenda in minority communities. The White House has cited efforts to encourage states to consider equity in public works projects as they spend money from the government’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The government has also acted to end the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine offenses and abolished policies widely seen as racist.

The administration also highlights Biden’s work to diversify the federal judiciary, including his appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman on the Supreme Court and the confirmation of 11 black women judges on federal appeals courts — more than the powerful courts installed there under all previous presidents combined.

King, who was born on January 15, 1929, was killed at the age of 39. He helped push the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Members of King’s family attended the service, including his 95-year-old aunt, Christine King Farris.

The President plans to be in Washington Monday to address the National Action Network’s annual King’s Day breakfast.

Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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