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NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including the Democrats’ plans for the filibuster, their progress on passing voting reform laws, and how former President Donald Trump’s Arizona rally reflects on American politics.
With or without the filibuster, there is no clear path to passing voting rights in the Senate right now, with the battle lines between Democrats and Republicans firmly drawn.
Here to assess the politics on both sides of the debate, our Politics Monday team, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR.
Very good to see both of you. Thank you for joining us.
Amy, I'm going to start with you.
We just heard Lisa's discussion just now, the filibuster debate about it. However you look at it, the prospects don't look good, I think to put it mildly, on voting rights, with the filibuster or without the filibuster.
You — people are asking, a number of people are asking, why go ahead with this to the Democrats when the prospects look so dim? Yesterday, we heard Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina say on one of the Sunday shows, on several of the Sunday shows, the reason we need to go ahead is, we need to know where you stand. Are you with us or are you against us?
What about that line of thinking on the part of the Democrats, Amy?
Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:
Well, that's right.
And, Judy, there's been so much. For these last few months, Democrats just seemed to be running in place. And the issue is as much about trying to do work within their own party, rather than trying to get a bipartisan coalition together.
Joe Manchin has been at the center of a lot of this with the Build Back Better plan. But so has Kyrsten Sinema, the senator from Arizona, who took to the Senate floor the other day to say, nope, I'm not going to support overturning the filibuster as it stands right now.
And so putting people on the record, Judy, you're right. It in some ways keeps the focus on the intraparty fighting, which is, Democrats can't seem to get their act together, and they didn't pass this, in part, because Democrats couldn't agree.
But it also allows Democrats to move forward, to say, we're going to take a vote. We get people lined up on that vote. And then we go and everybody knows where everybody stands. And we see where we can get later on, which, at this point, even though it doesn't seem like these bills are going to pass, reporting coming out suggesting that there may be some bipartisan agreement on changing this Electoral Count Act of 1887, which would prevent something like a vice president being able to, say, go in and say that he has authority to overturn electoral votes.
So, to Tam, I mean, pretty much the same question.
I mean, you have — there is an alternative out there. But Democrats are saying, most Democrats are saying, that's a distraction. We need to focus first on voting rights, but they don't have the votes.
The argument is, as we heard from Jim Clyburn, we need to know whose side you're on. Which side are you on? That's the Democrats' calculus. But there's risk in that.
Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:
And Vice President Harris today was asked about this as well, and essentially said, there are 100 senators in the Senate, and I'm not letting any of them off the hook, but, in particular, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin.
Part of what's going on here is that Democrats are under incredible pressure from key parts of their base to do something about this. When President Biden and Vice President Harris went to Georgia to give remarks to push for this voting rights legislation, activists, voting rights activists who are a huge — have a strong hold in Georgia and are very significant in Georgia, refused to show up, many of them, saying that words weren't enough, they needed a plan.
And the challenge, though, is that it's really hard to have a plan when, as President Biden has said, with 50 senators, with 50 Democratic senators, every single one of them is a president way. Every single one of them has the power to tank the agenda or to tank what the president wants.
And so it's — the math is just a real problem for President Biden, for key parts of his base, and for many Democrats who want to do this.
And for Democrats, Amy, for those Democrats who are in swing states or swing districts, if you're a congressman, but a member of Congress, but if you're a member of the Senate, and you're in a tough — a tough race, this vote is one that will be remembered.
That's exactly where I was going is to Arizona, right?
We talked so much about Senator Sinema, but there's somebody else in Arizona, another Democrat, Mark Kelly. He's up for reelection this year. He has been very quiet about the filibuster and what he would do if that were brought up for a vote.
Now, he has a very difficult choice in front of him. If he doesn't go along with Sinema's perspective on the filibuster, if he votes to overturn the filibuster for this voting rights bill, Republicans in the state are going to make the case in this election that this guy isn't so independent. He says he's an independent. He went against our Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema and sided with the liberals in Washington.
You can already hear the campaign ads. If he chooses to side with Sinema, then, to Tam's point about the progressive community, both the energy and the money coming to him are going to get cut off. So he's probably the one in the toughest position right now to have this vote on the record.
Yes, Tam, it's — this is one — this is a year when it's all about the election.
Yes, because guess what? It's 2022 now. We are officially in the midterm election year.
And you have Senator Kelly, who potentially has this very difficult choice. You have a Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who doesn't want a primary either. So, you have a lot have competing interests.
And you also have from Democrats a legitimate concern that anything they don't get done this year, and relatively early this year, is going to get completely overtaken by election year politics. And then, if they lose the House or — certainly, if they lose the House, which seems likely, given all the retirements that have been announced, then they're not going to be able to do it again in 2023.
And, just quickly, speaking of Arizona, Amy, and speaking of elections, former President Trump was in Arizona over the weekend, talking to his fans, thousands of them, repeating the same mistruths about the election, saying he won.
And, Amy, a lot of conspiracy theories thrown around, people in the crowd talking about John F. Kennedy coming back, John F. Kennedy Jr. I mean, it gets to fantasyland, doesn't it?
Well, it does.
And the real worry, Judy, that I think we all have is not simply that people are discussing these theories, but that, in reality, majorities of voters, when an election happens, don't trust the outcome. And that is more problematic.
Now, look, the good news from 2020 was, we had thousands and thousands of local elected officials, people whose names we will never know, who stood there in the breach and said, my job is to be nonpartisan. I count the votes. I'm not here to cheer for one party or the other, put a thumb on the scale. They are still there, but undermined by this kind of language is — and it's very, very dangerous.
And, Tam, we just have a few seconds to put a button it.
Yes, well, the former president knows some of their names now and is just trying to get them replaced by people who are loyalists to him.
And that's part of what that rally was about in Arizona, was promoting candidates who he has endorsed for elections this coming year.
We are going to leave it there. There are a few weeks left to talk about this year's elections. We're going to take advantage of that.
Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, thank you both.
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