Sen. Warnock on the prospects for voting rights legislation: ‘This is about our democracy’

President Biden on Thursday made his case for voting right legislation directly to Senate Democrats and heatedly denounced the Republican efforts to put limits on voting. But Sen. Kyrsten Sinema reiterated that she would not support a change to the 60-vote threshold or weakening the filibuster. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, a key lawmaker close to the issue, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, now, for more on the Democrats' push for voting rights, I'm joined by a lawmaker who is close to the issue.

    He's Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia.

    Senator, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you so much for joining us.

    And yet, for you, for the Democrats, this has not been a good day. We have been listening to the reporting. The Republicans continue to be opposed. You don't have the votes, even among Democrats, to get the rule change you need.

    Is it going to be worth going through the vote on this, given that?

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA):

    Thank you so very much. It's wonderful to be here.

    The answer is yes. We have to keep moving forward on this issue. Voting rights are preservative of all other rights. We are at a moral moment. And everybody has to be heard on this issue.

    I come from the state of Georgia, which is ground zero these days for voter suppression. We saw a historic turnout last election. And it is as if the state legislature is trying to punish voters in Georgia for showing up, for participating in their democracy.

    And politicians make a lot of promises when they're running for office, but the one thing I swore to do was to defend the Constitution. This is an unabashed assault on the constitutional rights of American citizens, and we have a moral obligation to stand up and protect their voices.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I hear you saying it's a moral issue, and yet even President Biden himself said today he's not sure you have the votes to get it done.

    Is there more the president could have done to advance this?

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock:

    I think that we need all hands on deck, which is why I'm glad he made his way to the state of Georgia, stood there on the campus of Morehouse College, where I studied, where Dr. King studied, to make this — the case.

    And I have been making the case for months, and I won't stop. Whatever the outcome this weekend — and we will see. Listen, I know the pundits are doing what they do. But Dr. King, whose birthday we celebrate this weekend, said that the time is always right to do what's right.

    It's not too late for any lawmaker on both sides of the aisle to do what's right in this moment. And that is to protect the voices of the American people. In our country, we have arguments about taxes, about health care, about climate.

    But, at the end of the day, the most powerful words in a democracy are, the people have spoken. And I am deeply concerned, because there is an architecture of voter suppression that's being built right now that will replace the voices of the people with plutocrats and politicians who are more concerned about their power than they are about democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Senator, I hear what you are saying, and yet it does come down to votes in the Senate, in the House in order to change these laws.

    And, right now, even among Democrats, we have been reporting on what Senator Kyrsten Sinema said today. She's for these voting rights laws that you would like to pass, but she is not for changing the rule in the Senate. She said she's much more concerned about political division, making that worse.

    What about that argument she's making?

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock:

    Well, you're not only talking to a senator. You're talking to somebody who preaches the Gospel every Sunday morning.

    And regardless of where we are in this moment, I'm going to keep preaching the gospel of democracy, because I actually believe that democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea, this idea that all of us have dignity, and so we ought to have a voice in the process.

    I agree with my colleague Senator Sinema that we ought to come together, we ought to have conversation, we ought to have robust argument about all of these issues.

    The problem with her argument is that it does not recognize that what we're dealing with in this moment is an effort to forestall the ability of some people to be at the table. Those of us who are in the Senate, we didn't just appear here. We were sent here by the people.

    And what folks are doing in Georgia and Arizona is that they're trying to cherry-pick their voters. How do we have conversation about health care, about the planet, about a whole range of issues, about jobs if the people's voices are squeezed out of their democracy?

    That's the qualitative difference. This is not a policy argument. It's about the democracy itself. And we have an obligation to protect it. I'm going to keep pushing that issue, no matter what.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Again, I hear you, Senator, but the brass tacks of all this are that the votes are not there.

    Republicans, not a single one of them is with you. And you mentioned the Georgia law. We heard in the last few days on the "NewsHour" the top election official in Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, told us that there's just been a lot of misunderstanding, in his words, about the new Georgia law. He said it actually extends the number of days when people can vote, that it fixes problems from 2020.

    So, how can there be such a gulf of…

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock:

    Listen, there is no misunderstanding.

    We know what they're doing, and they know what they're doing. And it's ironic that the very people who are talking about bipartisanship are passing these voter suppression bills in state legislature after state legislature, some 19 states, where they are in control, and all of these laws have been passed on a partisan basis.

    And so they know what they're up to. And the people of Georgia know what they're up to. I have stood in those lines. I'm not making this up. I'm not telling you what someone told me. I have been in those lines. I have seen people in neighborhoods stand eight and 10 hours trying to vote. I have gotten those phone calls.

    I have seen the ways in which our state has purged hundreds of thousands of voters on a Saturday night. And now, in this very moment, they are threatening to swoop in and take over local boards of elections. This is anti-democratic. It's anti-American. And we have an obligation to stand up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Senator, what will you do, though? I mean, given your passion on this issue, if you don't get these laws, these bills passed, enacted into law, what does that mean for you and other elected officials around the country?

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock:

    Let's be very clear. This is not about me. This is about our democracy.

    And we have to keep fighting the good fight. This is a moral moment. This is what Dr. King meant when he talked about the fierce urgency of now. He said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

    And so we have had setbacks before. And as the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached and where John Lewis worshipped, I don't have any right to give up. I don't have any right to break in into tears right now. These folk fought battles that we look back and we act as if those victories were inevitable.

    The truth is, they were quite improbable. It was improbable that John Lewis could walk across that bridge, face that kind of brute force, and somehow bend the arc of history. We don't know when that moment comes. It's our obligation to keep fighting the good fight, to stay in what he called good trouble.

    And that's what I intend to do, because I believe in democracy, and I love this country enough, a kid who grew up in public housing, now serving in the United States Senate. I love this country enough and what it represents at its core to fight for it. And I'm going to do that, whether that's health care, whether that's jobs and opportunity.

    And the democracy gives me a framework in which to fight. You can't do that everywhere all over the world, and that's why I'm fighting for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock:

    Thank you.

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