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Stacey Abrams on Biden’s leadership, Georgia’s election and challenging voter suppression

President Biden will try to pass major legislation in the months ahead while navigating the narrowest of margins in the Senate after Democrats captured two seats in Georgia. Stacey Abrams, who in 2018 lost a close gubernatorial race in the state, is the founder of several voting rights organizations that fueled higher voter registration and turnout in Georgia. She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As President Biden tries to pass major legislation in the months ahead, he will have to navigate the narrowest of margins in the Senate.

    But the fact that he has an advantage at all is due in large part to Democrats winning both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia earlier this month.

    Stacey Abrams is the founder of several voting rights organizations, including Fair Fight, that fueled higher voter registration and turnout in Georgia and elsewhere. She ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, lost by less than 2 percentage points, after serving as the state House minority leader.

    Her work is a big focus of a new documentary, "All In: The Fight for Democracy," which she produced. It can be seen on Amazon.

    And Stacey Abrams joins me now.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    I want to talk to you about the documentary.

    But, first, let's talk about yesterday, the inauguration. What did it say to you? What do you make of this new administration so far? And is anything missing?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    President Joe Biden is the right man for this moment. Vice President Kamala Harris is reflective of so much progress that we have made. And I think, as a team, they are going to lead a renewal of our democracy.

    But we cannot forget that the very people who attempted to overthrow our government just a few weeks ago, that they're still out there. And, unfortunately, some of their sympathizers remain in the state — in the — in our congressional legislative body, but as well as our state legislative bodies.

    And so our work has to be to leverage this extraordinary opportunity for good leadership to ensure that, both in D.C. and in our state legislatures, that we do not see a rescission of the advances we have been able to make in voting rights and voting access.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how much difference do you think the work that your organization, Fair Fight, and others like it did to make a difference in the fact that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were able to win?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    We believe that the work fighting against voter suppression, not only in Georgia, but in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, in Michigan and Arizona and Nevada, that this was incredibly instrumental.

    In fact, if you talk to the leaders of those parties, the leaders of those voter protection operations, they will tell you that, yes, we had new voters, but we had voters who had been precluded from participating in 2016 who had an opportunity to show up in 2020 and make a difference.

    And we know absolutely in Georgia that there was a sea change because we were able to push back against some of the most egregious voter suppression in the nation. And the result was that we were able to deliver 16 Electoral College votes for a Democratic nominee for the first time in 28 years, and, a few weeks later, we were able to flip two U.S. Senate seats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about President Biden's agenda, Stacey Abrams?

    I mean, we know he's got a lot on his plate, certainly, the coronavirus, the economy, the environment. The list goes on. How concerned are you? He's — there's so much focus for him right now on unity. He, understandably, is talking about bring the country together after the last four years, but how concerned are you about how much he can get done?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    The fact that he began his administration by rescinding so many terrible statements that were made by Donald Trump, that he has privileged and given primacy to COVID relief, that he is absolutely intentional about democracy, those are important steps, because he's not only saying, we need to have unity.

    He's creating the space so those actions can speak for him, because COVID relief is not just about a Democrat or a Republican. It's about the people of our country. Climate action is about making certain that, when we have disasters that hit our states, that we are prepared to respond and that we can anticipate what is to come.

    And I think what is so remarkable about his leadership is that he's bringing together not only different people across the country, but he's built a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of our nation, knowing that that diversity is actually a strength.

    And I'm just deeply impressed with what he's done so far, and I have a great deal of hope for what's to come.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He's also made it clear that he's prepared to compromise, when appropriate. Could that be bad news, frankly, for the progressive agenda?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    I think progress is always a good thing. And, sometimes, progress requires that you have to compromise your actions, but not compromise your values.

    If we can move forward on a host of issues that will improve the outcome for the people of our country, then we should want that to happen. We are not going to get everything we want. And we know that every change that needs to be made in this nation can't happen overnight and may not happen in four years.

    But what we have to hold him accountable for and what I think he's asking to be held accountable for is doing the hard work of moving us forward. We have a lot of gain to reground — a lot of ground to regain because of Donald Trump.

    But we know that that ground is fertile. And I think he's going to do his best. But leadership isn't just about getting your way. We saw what that looks like with the last four years. Leadership is about moving forward and bringing the people with you, and sometimes letting the people lead.

    And I think that's the ethos that we will see from President Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    About this documentary you have produced, "All In: The Fight for Democracy," it is all about the right to vote.

    For those people who remember, say, the civil rights movement, and remember the very clear and blatant obstacles to voting then, how do you explain to them what the obstacles are today, because they're not as visible in many ways as they were 50 years ago?

  • Stacey Abrams:

    Well, this is one of the reasons for the documentary.

    Earlier, last year, I wrote a book called "Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America." And the first half of the book really sought to lay out the history of voter suppression and bring it into the president day.

    But I know that not everyone's going to read a book about it. And what we wanted this documentary to do is to do exactly the same thing, to ground in the history, the horrid history of what voter suppression looks like, but then bring it to present day, so that we would know that it's not always guns and hoses and billy clubs.

    Sometimes, it's long lines that make you stand for eight hours and miss out on a day's wage. Sometimes, it's being purged from rolls even though you have done nothing wrong. And, sometimes, it's intentional information about who can vote and how.

    We know that voter suppression exists across this country. We were able to mitigate it, in part, in 2020. But we already see state legislators led by Republicans seeking to reinforce and to renew past practices because they see that, when more people can vote, regardless of party, that when more people vote, they may not win.

    My mission is not to say that any team, any party gets to win every election, but every voter should always have a voice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in fact, what we saw in 2020 and at the end of the election, President Trump and the people who support him making almost the opposite argument, that too much has been done to go out and to make sure minority voters can vote, people who may not be citizens can vote, they claim.

    How — I mean, there's a wave of belief out there today that something went wrong in this election. They're coming at it basically from the opposite direction.

  • Stacey Abrams:

    I wouldn't put this in terms of opposite direction. I would put this in terms of truth and lie.

    We know that it is true that voters have been purged from the rolls, thousands of whom should never have been removed. We know that there are communities that experience multihour lines, when communities that are better situated and whiter have a faster attempt and a faster capacity.

    We know that the issues of voter suppression played out in plain sight when we saw state after state try to force people to go to the polls in unsafe conditions, rather than allowing them to use the safety of voting by mail.

    Then you have the lies that were told by Donald Trump and by his adherents. We had more than 60 lawsuits where evidence could not be produced. We saw Donald Trump himself at the outset of his administration convene a voting fraud task force and dismantle it because they could not find proof.

    There has been absolutely no proof of widespread voter fraud. It did not happen. And, this year, Republican leaders acknowledged that that was true.

    And so the moment we create this false equivalence between voter suppression, which has been baked into our nation since its inception, and voter fraud, which largely in the 20th century and 21st centuries has been a figment of imagination, then we cannot give them equal time and equal measure.

    We have to dismiss and push back against voter fraud, so we can focus on ensuring that every eligible citizen in the United States of America has the same ease of voting, no matter who they are, where they live, or the color of their skin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Stacey Abrams, who leads the organization Fair Fight, very good to have you on the "NewsHour."

    Thank you so much.

  • Stacey Abrams:

    Thank you for having me.

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