Black pastors in Georgia press for federal voting bills

ATLANTA (AP) — Black church leaders in Georgia vowed Tuesday to keep up their fight for federal voting rights legislation, with one pastor urging President Joe Biden to use his bully pulpit and strike deals with lawmakers to get the bills passed.

“We need you to utilize every ounce of influence that you have,” Pastor Lee May, head of the Transforming Faith Church in Decatur, said in a plea to Biden at a rally outside the state Capitol in Atlanta. “We need you to not just say what you’re for, but to do something about it.”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, said the “crown” of her father’s work — the 1965 Voting Rights Act — was under attack. Republican lawmakers in Georgia and other states have approved a slew of new restrictions on voting that experts have blasted as the greatest assault on voting rights in a generation.

But a bill in Congress that Democrats view as an antidote to those state measures appears doomed in the narrowly divided Senate. Democrat Joe Manchin over the weekend expressed opposition to it and any effort to end the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster in the chamber.

“I call upon my brothers and sisters of the U.S. Senate to not allow filibuster to become your stumbling block to do what is just and what is right,” King said.

Republicans have defended the states’ recently passed voting restriction measures as necessary to restore confidence in the election system, though members of their party, including former President Donald Trump, have made false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who heads the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Georgia, said the laws were an effort to suppress minority voters who helped Democrats win.

He said Black pastors plan to head to Washington next week to persuade U.S. senators to support a voting bill named for the late Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, who died last year. Jackson singled out Manchin, saying the pastors needed to “clarify his thinking.”

“Does Sen. Manchin believe that the filibuster is more important than the United States Constitution?” he asked. “Our democracy is at risk. Does Manchin think the filibuster is more important than our democracy?”

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