WASHINGTON — Nearly a week after President Joe Biden indicated he supported Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia over recent voting laws, the White House set out Monday to clarify his position.
“He was not dictating what Major League Baseball should do,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Monday press briefing. “That was their decision, they made their decision and he certainly supports that.”
The press secretary’s comments deviated somewhat from statements Biden made last Wednesday to ESPN where he expressed strong support of the decision to move the July 13 game from Atlanta.
“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly,” Biden told the sports network during a March 31, two days before MLB announced its exit. “I would strongly support them doing that. People look to them. They’re leaders.”
More:MLB moving 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to Georgia voting law
Psaki argued to reporters that the administration Biden was not, in fact, saying MLB should relocate but rather that the league and players had the final say on the matter.
“He supports them being able to make the decision and respond to what their players’ asks are given many of them are impacted by these laws,” Psaki said.
Georgia is set to host another high-profile sporting event this week, the Masters golf tournament, in Augusta, Ga, hosted by the PGA. Psaki did not say when asked whether Biden would support golfers sitting out of the Masters in protest of Georgia’s voting law.
“Our focus is on doing what we can to advocate for making voting easier and more accessible around the country. That’s where our efforts are going to be from the White House.”
MLB decided to move its All-Star Game from Georgia after the Republican-controlled state legislature pass and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a voting law package that Democrats and voting rights advocates argue will disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters.
MLB has not announced a replacement city to host the game.
More:President Joe Biden says he would ‘strongly support’ moving the MLB All-Star Game out of Atlanta
The bill adds additional requirements for voter identification to vote; allows counties to choose whether to allow Sunday voting; shortens the period during which a voter can request an absentee ballot; reduces the time between general and run-off elections; and bans the handing out of food and water to voters waiting in line within a certain distance of a polling location, among other reforms.
“Look at what’s happened across the board. The very people who are victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports, and it’s just not right,” Biden said during the ESPN interview. “This is Jim Crow on steroids, what they’re doing in Georgia and 40 other states.”
Corporations headquartered and heavily invested in Georgia, including Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and Microsoft, have spoken out against the bill, drawing ire from many Republican lawmakers across the country.
“We’ve not asked corporations to take specific actions,” Psaki saidduring the Monday briefing while maintaining it remains “important that voting [is] easier, not harder” and that “when there are laws in place that it harder we certainly express opposition to those laws.”
More:‘It’s sick’: Biden slams Republican efforts in state legislatures to limit voting rights
Kemp has pushed back on White House criticisms of the law, saying the president has misportrayed what it would do.
“When the President of the United States says something, you know a lot of people pay attention. But what Joe Biden needs to do is look at the side-by-side of Georgia and Delaware,” Kemp told Fox News during an April 1 interview. “He’s focused on trying to get Major League Baseball to pull the game out of Georgia, which is ridiculous.”
“The spread of misinformation by the Biden White House continues. The Election Integrity Act makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Kemp tweeted the same day in response to a statement by Psaki criticizing the voting law.
Psaki on Monday walked back one of the president’s past criticisms – that the voting law reduced Election Day voting hours. But she said the law reduces hours for early voting “so there are a lot of components he’s concerned about.”
The governor has also been critical of moves by corporations to oppose the law.
“There is nothing I can do about that,” Kemp said. “I’m not going to be bullied by these people. But I’m also not running a public corporation. They’ll have to answer to their shareholders. There is a lot of people that work for them and have done business with them that are very upset.”
More:Stacey Abrams: Don’t boycott corporations over voting rights yet. First press them to speak up.
Georgia Democrats have sided with the White House. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told MSNBC that the moves are “likely” the start of a larger outcry from the business community supporting voting access.
“The metro-Atlanta area is home to 30, almost 40, Fortune 500 companies. This will have a tremendous impact on our state to be boycotted,” Bottoms said, cautioning that the law would hurt businesses and residents in the state.
“The legislature passed something that has restricted access to the ballot box, [Gov. Kemp] signed it into law and now we are all suffering the consequences,” Bottoms said.
Reach Matthew Brown on Twitter @mrbrownsir and Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison,