Democrats search for pathway to voting rights legislation in a divided Congress

On Capitol Hill, Democrats are looking for ways to move voting rights forward as Senate Republicans pushed back after President Biden denounced them for stalling legislation. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss where legislation stands and what options lie ahead.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On Capitol Hill, Democrats are searching for ways to push forward stalled voting rights measures.

    Lisa Desjardins joins me now to discuss where the legislation stands and what options lie ahead.

    So, Lisa, let's go right to it. The Democrats have said — the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said he wants to move on this in coming days. What's the plan and what are the prospects right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Historic and high stakes here, Judy.

    And just in the past couple of hours, we have learned the beginnings of a plan from Senate Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced that he does plan to use a kind of fast-track method to combine those two voting rights bills that you and I talked about earlier in the week, combine them into one bill, and then have the House send them over to the Senate.

    That will allow the voting rights package to skip over one filibuster hurdle in the Senate. So, it's a fast-track. However, it still leaves the underlying endgame problem. That voting rights bill would still face a final filibuster, a 60-vote requirement in the U.S. Senate. And unless the rules change, Democrats don't have those kinds of votes.

    Why not? Why wouldn't they change the rules? Well, we know two Democratic senators, Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia so far have not been able to agree to any change in the rules that allows the voting rights package to move forward past that filibuster.

    There have been, however, negotiations with those two, including today and last night. And I spoke with independent Senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, who was in those talks. He told me, frankly, he does think they are going to be tough to convince, those two.

  • Sen. Angus King (I-ME):

    There are a lot of ideas kicking around. They're very reluctant. Both for different reasons are committed. They believe that changing the filibuster rule would, in the long term, be bad for the country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats have given themselves until Monday, so we're following…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead, Lisa. Sorry.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, Judy.

    No, go ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, I didn't mean to interrupt.

    But we're hearing from Angus King. But what about Republicans? They blocked this legislation last fall. What are their principal arguments against this? And what are the Democrats going to do about that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans say that this is a power grab by Democrat.

    Senate Leader Mitch McConnell also said that, in the past, these same Democrats stood up for the filibuster when they were in the minority. But Democrats say this is a different case, because what's at stake here are the voting rights and the stake — the state of elections in this country overall.

    So, what are they going to go about potential rules changes? How can they get around the filibuster? Here's my reporting. Of the many options that are on the table, these are the ones that are the most under consideration. Let's take a look quickly.

    First, the first option that I know many Democrats would like is to just get rid of the 60-vote threshold altogether. But, honestly, Senators Manchin and Sinema are not on board. And that, frankly, is off the table.

    So, what else, option two? A carve-out from the filibuster just for voting rights. And, Judy, some 48 Democrats probably are on board that idea specifically. But it doesn't seem to have enough to get over the hurdle and to have this carve-out work, even though there was a carve-out just last year for the debt ceiling in regards to a 60-vote threshold.

    So let's talk about one more option, option three, the talking filibuster. Everybody's seen Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." The idea here would be that senators would have to be on the floor. They would have a two-speech limit, which is the current rule.

    But what this would do is, it would be two weeks and weeks potentially of debate on a single bill. But at the end of those weeks of debate, it would end. And the idea is, then there could be just an up-or-down majority vote on a simple piece of legislation.

    I talked to Senator King about that as well. He thinks that kind of idea could elevate the debate in general.

  • Sen. Angus King:

    Well, as you know, there's very little in the way of real debate in the Senate.

    This would allow the American people to hear the Democrats argue for why we need to do this. And they'd hear the Republicans argue for why we don't need to do it, rather than an occasional speech from Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell.

    And I think that could be a powerful way of solving this problem.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, of course, though, the problem is that would open potentially a can of worms.

    And one other last thing, Judy, I want to just mention, Joe Manchin, my reporting is, isn't just having concerns about these kinds of rules changes, but he has a real problem with the way the rule would have to change.

    He thinks that sort of changing the rule in the Senate should take two-thirds vote of the Senate, not just 50, plus one. And that procedural hiccup for him is a really serious issue that Democrats are trying to get around.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's a lot to follow, the minutiae of parliamentary procedure and all the rest of it, Lisa, so we appreciate your doing it.

    But just very quickly, we know some Republicans talking about electoral count reform. Where does that stand?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There are efforts, in fact, some bipartisan efforts, to try and get an electoral count reform going, something that would change the way we certify elections.

    But I think that we're still months and months away from any real fruitful effort there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know Democrats are saying that's a diversion. Republicans are saying they're serious.

    We will watch.

    Lisa Desjardins on top of it.

    Thank you, Lisa.

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