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Republicans grill Stacey Abrams: Are blue states 'racist,' too?

Republicans spent much of the question-and-answer period of a Senate hearing zeroing in on Stacey Abrams, a popular messenger for Democrats' voting legislation.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., listens as Stacey Abrams testifies remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill on April 20, 2021.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., listens as Stacey Abrams testifies remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill on April 20, 2021.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

Republican senators questioned Stacey Abrams during a Senate hearing Tuesday about voting rights, quizzing her over whether state laws in Democratic-controlled states are “racist” and whether her own 2018 gubernatorial race was “stolen.”

Abrams became a voting rights advocate since her failed run for Georgia governor and was credited with helping organize voters in her state to help propel President Joe Biden to the White House. She was testifying to advocate for passage of a sweeping federal overhaul of the U.S. voting system that is being pushed for by Democrats.

She has led the national criticism of a recently-enacted Georgia law that placed new limitations on voting in the state.

“Georgia has a no-excuse absentee voting provision in that law,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. “Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York do not have any no-excuse absentee voting. Are the voting laws in Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York racist?”

Abrams said she believed that those five states were “behind the eight ball” and the laws should be changed by federal legislation. The Texas senator pressed Abrams on the states again and accused her of “filibustering” his questions. Twice, he asked her if voter ID is racist.

She responded that Georgia’s law was at issue because it had “targeted” communities of color by changing a longstanding mail voting policy only after voters of color embraced it in recent years. She also said she had no problem with non-strict voter ID requirements.

“The intent always matters, sir, and that is the point of this conversation," she said. "That is the point of the Jim Crow narrative. That Jim Crow did not simply look at the activities, it looked at the intent. It looked at the behaviors and it targeted behaviors that were disproportionately used by people of color."

Cornyn's questions illustrates an increasingly common argument from Republican lawmakers, who say Georgia is unfairly criticized while states controlled by Democrats with restrictive law are ignored. Many of those states have begun to rollback those laws, while states like Georgia are trying to enact them.

The sparring punctuated a four-hour hearing on voting that featured advocates for the Democrats voting bill, Abrams, who founded Fair Fight, a voting rights group, and Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Many Republicans used their time to talk about voter ID — which public polling indicates is largely popular with voters — and interrogate Abrams.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, quoted Abrams own comments about the 2018 Georgia governor's race, which she has said she lost due to voter suppression.

“Yes or no, today, do you still maintain that the 2018 election was stolen?” Cruz asked her.

“As I’ve always said, I acknowledged at the very beginning, that Brian Kemp won under the rules that were in place," she said cautiously. "What I object to were rules that permitted thousands of Georgia voters to be denied their participation in this election, to have their votes cast out. I will continue to disagree with the system until it is fixed."

Pressed again, Abrams said, “we do not know what they would have done because not every eligible Georgian was permitted to participate fully in the election.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Abrams if she regretted what he described as a "central role" in Major League Baseball's decision to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia.

Abrams said she had not encouraged the MLB to move the game.

"While I certainly regret the decision that MLB made to remove their game from Cobb County and the economic effect that it will have on Georgians writ large, I support anyone who will fight to stop this type of bad behavior, this type of racial animus, this type of voter suppression from happening in Georgia or elsewhere in the country," she said. "Because to me one day of games is not worth losing our democracy."

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La, who joined at least three of his colleagues in asking Abrams her views on voter ID, also asked Abrams if she preferred an Election Day or an "election month."

"I think we are better off having a process that allows every single American the opportunity to participate in elections," she said.