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Senate Democrats push a voting rights bill that most likely won't pass

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Senate Democrats are barreling ahead with a public showdown over the filibuster and voting rights. Vice President Kamala Harris kept up the pressure yesterday on members of her own party who say they'll block the Democrats' plans. She was asked during a service event marking Martin Luther King Day what her message is to Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: There are a hundred members of the United States Senate, and I'm not going to absolve - nor should any of us absolve - any member of the United States Senate from taking on a responsibility to follow through on the oath that they all took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

MARTINEZ: Pressure from the White House has not shifted things in the Senate. So why are Democrats marching ahead anyway? NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is following all of this. Kelsey, why are Democrats doing this right now, when you got things like inflation, omicron, supply chain issues that are top of mind for so many voters right now?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, basically they're running out of time. This is, after all, an election year, and in the last election, Democrats promised voting protections - things like ensuring access to mail-in voting and making Election Day a federal holiday - and that's what's in these bills. You know, they need to make sure that they prove to voters that they tried, and they need to show exactly who stopped them from making these changes into law. That's part of what's going on here. It also allows them to demonstrate the same thing with the filibuster because they do have activists and some in the base who have been demanding, you know, changes to the filibuster since Biden became president.

Now, these votes will show that they tried, but it's also kind of an attempt to blunt criticism that they aren't doing enough. While shining a light on the fact that Republicans are continuing to publicly fight about election security, Democrats want to keep the focus on former President Trump continuing to lie about the 2020 election.

MARTINEZ: OK, a couple of different hurdles here - filibuster and voting rights. Who's standing in the way of each part of this?

SNELL: So let's go in order of when they're going to run into these hurdles throughout this week. Now, Democrats have a plan to allow them to start debate on the voting rights bills without any Republican filibuster, but there's still another filibuster to get through. They need 60 votes to end debate and hold a final vote. Most Republicans oppose the voting rights bill, so they can't move forward. They just don't have a shot at getting to 60. So Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to bring up filibuster reform.

Now, there are a few different options. They're considering different ways to change the filibuster. Some of those have more support than others, but all of them you need unanimous agreement among Democrats to get the changes passed, and as you said, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona says she opposes any changes to the filibuster. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has also signaled that, you know he might be OK with some changes, but there's really no incentive for him to vote for any of those changes now, when they've got no chance of actually happening.

MARTINEZ: What about changing the Electoral Count Act? That's something Republicans seem willing to talk about.

SNELL: Right. And there is some bipartisan talk about that, but what they're talking about is much narrower and focused on changing the law that governs the counting of Electoral College votes. You know, this - they want to clarify the law, including the limits of power of the vice president to reject electoral votes, what insurrectionists were calling for former Vice President Pence to do on January 6. The White House and Democratic leaders initially rejected any efforts to do that, and no legislation really exists yet, but Republican senators in these talks, like Mitt Romney, say they're willing to talk if the White House will get engaged.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thanks.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Kelsey Snell
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.