Washington (CNN)President Joe Biden and other Democrats could tackle both voting rights and infrastructure legislation at the same time, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock insisted Sunday, while White House shifts its focus to the country’s infrastructure as his home state of Georgia has enacted a strict new voting law.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We’ve got to work on the infrastructure of our country — our roads and our bridges — and we’ve got to work on the infrastructure of our democracy,” the Georgia senator told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” when asked whether Biden should prioritize voting rights over infrastructure.
“I think the President is engaged on this issue,” he added, referring to voting rights. “And when I’ve talked to him, he’s agreed that voting rights are foundational — that this is the work we have to do.”
The comments from Warnock come three days after Georgia’s Republican governor enacted into law a sweeping elections bill that imposes tight new voting restrictions, which the senator called an “assault” on democracy. Republican lawmakers in other states are also moving to pass bills with voting restrictions, something congressional Democrats have seized on in their push to take federal action on voting rights.
But as Republicans in statehouses push to restrict voting access, the White House is shifting its focus to Biden’s next key initiative after he signed the latest coronavirus stimulus package, with advisers prepping a two-part, $3 trillion proposal that would focus on jobs, infrastructure and clean energy, as well as what’s being termed the “care economy” that zeroes in on key domestic economic issues.
Asked by Bash what his message would be on Sunday, Warnock, the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, invoked a Biblical story to describe the GOP efforts to roll back voting rights.
“It’s Palm Sunday and Jesus confronts the powers and we all have a decision to make. There was a governor that he confronts in that moment named Pilate. And the governor has a decision to make,” he said, tacitly referring to Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent signing of the election law. “I think that all of us has a decision to make: are we going to stand on the side of truth and righteousness and justice? Are we going to stand up on the right side of history? This is a defining moment in the American nation and all of us have a role to play.”
Republicans work to restrict voting access
The new law in Georgia, dubbed The Election Integrity Act of 2021, imposes voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water.
Republicans in the state cast it as necessary to boost confidence in elections after the 2020 election saw former President Donald Trump make repeated, unsubstantiated claims of fraud. But Democrats, including Warnock, have sharply criticized the measure as voter suppression.
The senator vowed Sunday “to do everything I can to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act so that we can expand our democracy, rather than contract it,” telling Bash: “The governor is taking us back, we intend to go forward.”
Warnock also urged Georgians to vote during his Palm Sunday sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church later Sunday.
“Exercise your constitutional right to vote. ‘Why are you talking about that on a Sunday morning, preacher?’ Because your vote is your voice. Your voice is your human dignity. I believe that the right to vote, I believe that democracy, is the political enactment of a spiritual idea that all of us are children of the living God and more people than ever in Georgia stood up and said I want my vote,” he said.
The Georgia law is part of a larger effort by GOP-led legislatures across the country to pass restrictive voting measures in key states like Arizona, Michigan and Florida. As of February, state legislators in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York also blasted the new Georgia law on Sunday, telling CNN’s Abby Phillip on “Inside Politics” that its provisions are “inhumane.”
“We need to make sure we give people better access to voting, not just in Georgia, but across the country and we can do that if we pass HR-1 and HR-4 in the Senate,” he added, referring to voting rights bills passed in the US House of Representatives.
White House prioritizes infrastructure
Though Biden has also denounced Republican efforts to restrict voting in many states as “un-American” and “sick,” comparing the efforts to Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, the White House is making plans to shift its focus to the nation’s infrastructure.
The $3 trillion plan aides are working on would mark a sweeping move toward enacting the key elements of the “jobs” agenda that Biden laid out in large part during his campaign for president, with a suite of potential tax increases on corporations and the wealthy as options to finance any longer-term spending in the final proposal.
The proposal would focus heavily on money for roads, bridges and rails, and would include hundreds of billions in spending for climate-related measures, as well as climate-related research and development. It also would include $100 billion for education infrastructure.
The domestic economy piece of the plan, meanwhile, would include key Biden campaign priorities such as universal pre-K, significant spending on child care, care-giving and proposals designed to try and address portions of the workforce hit hardest by the pandemic economy.
White House officials have stressed that no final decisions about the final path forward have been made at this point, and Biden still has to review the proposals and plans to consult heavily with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the scale and legislative sequencing of the issue.
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.
CNN’s Caroline Kelly, Nicky Robertson, Phil Mattingly, Kelly Mena, Fredreka Schouten, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed to this report.