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Biden Faces A Lot Of Challenges In His Attempt To Address Voting Rights

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

So, as she said, those Texas lawmakers have come to Washington to press Congress to pass a Democratic voting rights bill. But that has stalled in the Senate, and President Biden faces a lot of challenges to address voting rights. He's also faced criticism for not speaking out more forcefully on the issue. Biden will deliver a speech today on voting rights at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki previewed the case he'll make, including against his predecessor's false claims about the last election.

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JEN PSAKI: He'll call out the greatest irony, of the big lie, is that no election in our history has met such a high standard, with over 80 judges - including those appointed by his predecessor - throwing out all challenges. He'll also decry efforts to strip the right to vote as authoritarian and anti-American.

PFEIFFER: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

PFEIFFER: This Texas situation, what is the White House saying about it?

DETROW: We heard yesterday from Vice President Kamala Harris, who is leading the administration's efforts on this issue. She was actually holding a session on voting rights in Detroit when all this started happening. Harris had met with these Texas lawmakers previously, after they had walked out to block that prior Republican voting bill, and here is what Harris said yesterday about this.

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KAMALA HARRIS, BYLINE: I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote, unencumbered.

DETROW: Harris put these lawmakers in pretty heady company, comparing them to 1960s civil rights activists. But, you know, the length that these lawmakers are going to really speaks to a larger challenge for Democrats here, and that's just the fact that, you know, they do not have the votes to stop these measures, whether it's in state capitols in Republican-controlled states or Congress or the federal courts right now.

PFEIFFER: This speech Biden is going to give today, do you know what we should be expecting from that?

DETROW: Yeah, we can expect pretty stark language, like what we heard from Jen Psaki there. You know, Biden could be calling these moves authoritarian. We expect him to say they are the biggest challenge to American democracy since the Civil War. But in terms of action, there's going to be a gap because we don't expect much new here, especially any new announcements or tactics from the White House.

The White House keeps talking about how President Biden is using the visibility and power of the presidency to push for voting rights and to call out what's going on. But today's speech had been promised for weeks now, and in the meantime, Biden has gone overseas and back. He's negotiated infrastructure deals. He's signaled a lot of other priorities, and progressives have been really worried and frustrated that Biden has not been doing more, given the stakes of things as they see it. And some are even protesting outside the speech in Philadelphia today.

PFEIFFER: Although the Biden administration did sue over the new voting restrictions in Georgia - the DOJ sued, the Justice Department.

DETROW: That's right. And the White House also points to an executive order that Biden has signed, but that lawsuit is, you know, really another sign of how hard this is for Biden right now. That recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on that Arizona voting rights case made it pretty clear the judiciary right now is going to be skeptical of challenges to these restrictive voting laws. And also in Congress, it's the conversation we've been having all year - there's the filibuster. Democrats have the (inaudible) in the Senate, but they cannot get these voting rights bills through right now because they don't have 10 Republican votes.

PFEIFFER: And on that filibuster, even some progressives say if voting rights is such a big priority, maybe it's worth getting rid of the filibuster. What is the White House saying about that?

DETROW: You know, what they've been saying all along on a wide range of issues - Biden has been hesitant to fully call for a change. The fact is there are not 50 Democratic votes to make any changes right now, anyway. We're hearing one new flavor of this argument. James Clyburn, a close Biden ally, is making the case that Democrats could push for a narrow exemption - you know, so they could pass bills related to the Constitution, to voting rights, with a narrow majority and not need that 60-votes threshold. But, again, that's something that it's hard to see 50 votes for in the Senate right now. And the White House is kind of keeping it at arm's length, saying it's a good idea to look at, but they're not committing to it.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thank you.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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