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Centralized voting bill won’t restore public trust in election, Sen. Thune says

Judy Woodruff discusses Tuesday's Senate vote on an elections reform bill with Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who also serves as the Senate Republican whip. Thune also weighs in on President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, and progress towards bipartisanship on the matter.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we turn now to two senators on either side of this debate.

    I spoke with them earlier this evening, before the vote.

    And I began with Senator John Thune of South Dakota. He's the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate.

    Senator Thune, thank you very much for joining us.

    So, what is your view of this new compromise voting rights measure, with so much input from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who's been working relentlessly to come up with something that Republicans can support?

  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD):

    Well, I give Joe credit, Judy, for — he's trying his best, but it just starts with a very difficult premise for Republicans.

    And that is that it requires the federal government essentially to take over elections from the states. And Republicans, I think, as you know, are very supportive of state sovereignty. Elections have been run by the states, conducted by the states since our country's inception.

    And we believe it works there. We believe this legislation is a solution in search of a problem, that there isn't anything out there. We had record turnout in the last election, highest turnout in a presidential election in 2020 since the year 1900, 120 years in American history.

    And states are, as they always are most years, looking for ways to improve and strengthen election integrity and security. Some of those ways, it sounds like, are running the wrong — against the grain or Democrats here in Washington.

    But I think most states are in the mainstream. They're making changes consistent with their laws, trying to improve people's ability to vote. We want to make sure that every legal vote is counted, that everybody has the opportunity to vote. We also want to make sure that we try and prevent cheating in elections.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, there are a number of things you have raised I want to ask you about.

    One is, doesn't the Constitution give the federal government control over federal election?

  • Sen. John Thune:

    Well, the federal government does have some control over elections with respect to time, place and manner.

    But in terms of conduct of elections, states have always done that. We have always deferred to them. It's something that has been relegated to the states. And it's worked well, I think, throughout our nation's history.

    The argument here is that we need this massive sort of federal expansion of — when it comes to voting in this country and elections, when, in fact, what you're seeing a lot of the states across the country are efforts to try, as I said, strengthen and improve their elections process, which is consistent with the way that it's always been done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What we know is going on — and voting rights groups have pointed this out — that you now have a number of state legislatures, Republican-controlled, around the country that are trying to tighten and deny access to voters, based on the false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent, that actually President Trump won.

    We know that is not true. So, why not try to take steps that will undo a falsehood?

  • Sen. John Thune:

    Well, I don't — I don't view it, I guess, that way.

    I have no — I have never second-guessed the outcome of the 2020 election. There are voters across this country who I believe do, based on statements that the president, former president, had made, and it has created a lot of distrust of our elections.

    And I don't think that passing a partisan bill that federalizing or consolidates power in Washington over elections is going to lessen that mistrust in our elections.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator…

  • Sen. John Thune:

    And, frankly, I think the only way that we're going to do that, Judy, is to maintain clean elections in this country.

    And I don't know how having Washington administer elections does that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is it fair to say Republicans believe in fewer people voting, Democrats believe in more people voting?

  • Sen. John Thune:

    That's — no, that's not true. We want everybody who can cast a ballot, we want encourage people to vote. We want those who are legal to vote legally. We want to discourage people from voting illegally or cheating in elections.

    But we want everybody to vote. This isn't about fewer people voting. I think the Democrats do believe that, if they — if they — some of these changes that they're intending to make tip the playing field to their advantage. They create a partisan advantage on the FEC, for example.

    They have taxpayer financing of elections. They require, in some cases, the IRS to look at these tax-exempt organizations and determine whether or not they agree with what their objectives are before they allow them to have the tax status that they would get under — otherwise under the law.

    There are a whole lot of changes in here that are fundamentally designed to skew the playing field in favor of Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Quickly. Senator, I want to ask you about infrastructure.

    Is it your sense that you're close to some kind of an agreement on that and how to pay for it?

  • Sen. John Thune:

    Well, I think we are close.

    And I think this is an issue on which there is room for bipartisan agreement. This is an issue that should be bipartisan. The complicated part is the pay-fors.

    And the details do matter. I think there's a structure out there that a number of Republicans and Democrats have endorsed it. Directionally, I think it's moving in the right direction. But filling in the details is going to be important to all this and being able to work with the White House. Ultimately, it's got to be something that the president would be willing to sign into law.

    But I'm all for putting together a package that could attract a big vote in the Senate and in the House, get signed into law by the president. I think infrastructure is something the American people do expect us to be working on. And probably, frankly, we would rather be working on that than an election bill that puts Washington in charge of their elections in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator John Thune, thank you very much. Good to have you with us.

  • Sen. John Thune:

    Thanks, Judy. Good to be with you.

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