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Keep your eyes on Georgia this week as voting rights fight heats up

Washington (CNN)The months since the 2020 election have brought a high-stakes fight to the critical battleground state of Georgia, where GOP lawmakers are driving to enact sweeping restrictions on voting.

How sweeping? Read this report from CNN's Fredreka Schouten and Kelly Mena on an omnibus bill that a key House committee is expected to take up Monday that would:

Despite last-minute alterations to the package to preserve more weekend early voting, "this bill continues to be nothing but voter suppression," said Cliff Albright, the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund.

He also added: "The recent changes are nothing more than putting a little makeup and cologne on Jim Crow."

The coming days will be crucial. The state's GOP-controlled General Assembly has only five legislative workdays left on its calendar before it adjourns March 31. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate say they plan to finalize changes to election bills in the days ahead.

It's not just Georgia. Despite the absence of any widespread security issues with voting nationwide, GOP lawmakers in battleground states across the country have pushed for additional voting restrictions.

As of February, state legislators in 43 states had introduced more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Democrats in Congress are looking to pushback. Senate Democrats last week introduced the election and voting rights package passed by the House earlier this month, one that, if passed, would counteract Republican efforts at the state level to curb access to the ballot box.

The legislation, though, is likely to hit a roadblock in the Senate, where it's not clear there would be enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster.

Voter suppression isn't anything new. On the latest CNN Political Briefing podcast, CNN Race and Equality senior writer Nicquel Terry Ellis explains the effects of these current proposals and how they fit the historical pattern of voter suppression in America.

Washington speed read

Crisis at the border. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declined to provide a timeline for when the Biden administration will open new facilities capable of handling the surge of unaccompanied children at the southern border.

Korean American congresswomen fight back against bias. GOP Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel eagerly joined other Asian American lawmakers as witnesses in a House Judiciary Committee hearing intended to put the spotlight on discrimination, which took on more urgency in the wake of the mass shootings of Asian Americans in Atlanta.

SCOTUS watch. The owner of a strawberry nursery in California is taking a union case to the Supreme Court, arguing against a 1975 California law that allows organizers to gain access to the property of agricultural employers during limited time frames to speak to workers about union membership.

Republicans clash on insurrection. Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, argued on Sunday that Americans don't need "alternative versions" of what occurred the day of the US Capitol insurrection, pushing back on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson's comments that mischaracterize the riot and its participants.

Fencing around Capitol comes down. The outer fencing put up to protect the US Capitol following the insurrection has started to come down, allowing the public to regain access to the iconic building's grounds again.

'Women Have to Interrupt.' On this week's Politically Sound podcast, Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sits down with CNN's Dana Bash to discuss being the only woman in the room, putting women's rights at the heart of US foreign policy, and her thoughts on the January 6 insurrection.

'Divided We Stand'

We've been watching CNN's Divided We Stand series about Abraham Lincoln. The final episode, about the aftermath of his assassination, shows how he turned from a divisive president into a universally beloved martyr and it argues that we do him and ourselves a disservice by not understanding his flaws.

Missed the series?

Watch from the beginning on CNN Go

You can also listen to every episode right in your podcast feed

A tight race between vaccines and variants

Public health experts for months have framed the US vaccination campaign as a race between widespread inoculation and the concerting variants that have cropped up around the world.

The good news is our vaccine distribution pipeline has improved considerably, to the tune of about 2.4 million doses per day. The bad news? A highly contagious variant is spreading fast, too.

"This is crunch time," Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Saturday. "This is going to be our most difficult period right now in terms of seeing who wins out."

The most formidable variant right now is B.1.1.7, which was first spotted in the UK and has been rapidly spreading across the US in recent weeks.

The variant is not only more easily transmitted, but it also appears to be more deadly. And The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates it will become the dominant variant of the virus in the US by the end of this month or early April.

Take it from Dr. Anthony Fauci:

"Of concern is that there are about 50% increase in transmission with this particular variant that has been documented in the UK and there's likely an increase in severity of disease if infected with this variant," he said at the White House this month.

Since December, "it has been detected in 50 jurisdictions in the United States, and likely accounts now for about 20 to 30% of the infections in this country."

"And that number is growing."

Now, the good news. We don't have to accept another surge.

The three vaccines that have so far won emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration appear to protect people well against B.1.1.7.

And our total inoculation numbers are starting to really add up. About 81 million people have had at least one dose of a vaccine, a figure that is going up significantly every day. In addition, about 29 million people have tested positive for the virus and recovered, and tens of millions more have had Covid-19 without a positive test and have some natural immunity.

The result is a clear roadmap to avoid another surge, and finally turn the corner on this pandemic.

"The way we can counter 1.1.7, which is a growing threat in our country, is to do two things," Fauci explained.

"To get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible with the vaccine that we know works against this variant and, finally, to implement the public health measures that we talk about all the time ... masking, physical distancing, and avoiding congregant settings, particularly indoors."

Don't conflate hesitancy with access

One of the disturbing trends in the US inoculation effort has been the way White Americans have received a disproportionate percentage of vaccinations compared with Black and Hispanic Americans.

A lot of politicians have claimed this is because of vaccine hesitancy from people of color. But, as CNN's Harry Enten writes, a look at the polling data suggests that this may not be the case.

Take the recent CBS News/YouGov poll for example:

Among Whites, 26% say they have gotten the vaccine, compared with 17% of Black adults and 11% of Hispanic adults.

Now, look at those who say they want the vaccine in the same poll: 41% of Hispanics, 34% of Blacks, and 31% of Whites.

Now, look at our last CNN poll, which found that just 11% of people of color say they have tried to schedule vaccinations and have failed. It's 9% for Whites. Compare that with the 36% of people of color who say they want a vaccine and haven't tried to get one. Just 25% of White people indicated they want to get the vaccine and have not tried to get one.

As Harry puts it: Politicians might be wise to shift their focus away from putting the onus on communities of color for not getting vaccinated.



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