Georgia, a state Mr. Biden won by only 11,779 votes, has also seen some of the most sweeping attempts by Republicans to assert partisan power in elections, particularly through restricting mail-in, absentee or early voting. Critics say similar laws have spread around the country in response to false claims by former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters that the 2020 election was rigged. Last week, observing the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Mr. Biden denounced those theories: “You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.”
Some prominent activists offered tempered support before the president’s speech, angered by what they said was a lack of attention as state-level restrictions go into effect. Bee Nguyen, a state representative for Georgia and Democrat candidate for secretary of state, said that she has tried to stress to the White House that activists need to hear more than a encouragement to simply out-organize voter suppression, one of the strategies Biden administration officials have encouraged in their engagement with activists.
“The burden should not be on the shoulders of Black and brown Georgians to simply exercise the right to vote,” Ms. Nguyen said. “If we can’t get this done it’s going to be really difficult to climb out of what we’re seeing.”
Representative Terri A. Sewell, Democrat of Alabama, who in August introduced the bill named for Mr. Lewis, said that she was “pretty clear” what her expectations were before she agreed to travel to Atlanta with Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris. She said she had been assured that the president would not only talk about the need for voting rights, but outline a plan for getting it done that would embrace a change of Senate rules.
“It was Georgia voters that gave him the presidency and gave us the slim majority that we have in the Senate,” Ms. Sewell said. “I know that he knows that we may have to walk this alone.”
Others declined to attend. Stacey Abrams, the voting rights advocate and Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, was not at the speech because of a conflict, an aide to Ms. Abrams said. The person declined to elaborate on the conflict.
One prominent family agreed to attend. Martin Luther King III, the oldest living son of the civil rights leader, and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, met privately with Mr. Biden in Atlanta before the president and the King family, who’ve planned a series of marches to pressure Democrats to pass the legislation, visited the civil rights leader’s crypt.