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Kamala Harris says she's speaking with GOP senators about voting rights legislation

Harris pushes for voting legislation
Harris says she's speaking with Republicans on voting legislation 06:05

Vice President Kamala Harris says she is speaking with Republican senators on a key piece of voting legislation. During a phone interview with CBS News, the vice president said there is "no bright line" defining whom she speaks to about voting rights legislation. She said it's "a non-partisan issue" and "should be approached that way."

In response to a question about whether she had spoken with any GOP senators about S. 1, the sweeping voting rights bill that has been blocked in the Senate, she replied, "I have spoken to Republican senators — both elected Republicans and Republican leaders," Harris said, and she identified one GOP senator.

"I've talked with [Senator Lisa] Murkowski about this issue," Harris said.

Harris' office later clarified that the two had discussed infrastructure, not voting rights. A spokesperson for Murkowski confirmed Wednesday that her conversations recently with Harris have been "solely on infrastructure."

S. 1 is not a bill that Murkowski favors — she has previously called the For the People Act a "partisan, federal takeover of the election system."

The Alaska senator is the co-sponsor of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would essentially restore a portion of the act struck down by the Supreme Court. This bill also faces GOP opposition and has not yet been introduced, but the White House has expressed support for this legislation, too.

The S. 1 bill proposes the biggest overhaul of election laws in a generation and would revamp campaign finance laws, ensure automatic voter registration and expand access to early and absentee voting. Voting rights advocates hope it could supersede some of the restrictive voting measures enacted by GOP-led state legislatures. 

Last week, President Biden delivered remarks in Philadelphia denouncing the more restrictive measures being considered and passed by state GOP-led legislatures, calling them a "21st century Jim Crow assault" on voting access.   

But Democrats suffered a major blow at the end of June when Senate Republicans blocked a vote to begin debate on the bill. Harris told CBS News that despite that setback, the For the People Act is still a "key piece of what we need to do to fight for the right to vote." 

The failed vote in the Senate also renewed calls from some progressives to do away with the filibuster or weaken it. One possibility that has been floated recently is a carveout for voting legislation. Cliff Albright, executive director of the Black Voters Matter Fund, said in a phone call, "Even as it appears that the call for a voting rights [filibuster] carveout is gaining momentum, we're still not hearing anything from the White House."

In the interview, Harris twice refused to support filibuster reform of any type, but echoed the president in saying that "there is a national imperative to pass the voting rights legislation, and that is the test of our time." Pressed further on filibuster reform, she added, "Any changes to the filibuster is going to require all Senate Democrats to support those changes."

It was a tacit acknowledgement that the Senate seems to lack the votes to change the filibuster. In the 50-50 Senate, two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have said they won't support dropping the filibuster. Also, Manchin has indicated that he would only support bipartisan voting legislation, so even if there were changes to the filibuster, S. 1 would not have the votes to pass. 

For Harris' part, she has engaged with voting rights advocates and organizers in her ceremonial office in Washington, D.C., and across the country. Last week, Harris met with the Texas legislators who broke quorum to block a controversial GOP- led bill by traveling to Washington, D.C., and held a listening session with Black women leaders on the issue.

She told CBS News that she also plans to meet with Native American and Alaskan native leaders next week to discuss voting rights.  On Tuesday, Harris met with some members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to discuss get-out-the-vote efforts, while the Super Bowl champions visited the White House.

In a joint statement after they met with President Biden and Harris last month, civil rights leaders from organizations including the NAACP, National Urban League and NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund urged the White House to "do even more in pushing Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act." 

Since May, at least 14 states have enacted 22 new laws that would restrict voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, including Florida, Georgia and Iowa. The Justice Department is suing Georgia over the voting law it passed in April, alleging that the bill is intended to restrict ballot access to Black voters.    

"There is a lot of work to be done. There is no question about that." Harris said. "I join the chorus in saying that everyone has to approach this issue with a sense of urgency and a sense of deep-seated commitment to fighting against these efforts to suppress the vote."

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