Melissa Harris-Perry: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega.
Senator 1: The bill that we have in front of us is not so much about voting rights as it is a federal takeover of the election system.
Senator 2: This issue is about the preservation and the protection of the democracy itself.
Melissa Harris-Perry: On Tuesday, the Senate had a test vote on the For the People Act, which is intended to expand voting rights and access. As expected, Senate Republicans use the filibuster to block debate from happening on the bill. Following the test vote, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined potential next steps for Democrats.
The summary: Democrats face two big questions. First, can they piece together voting rights legislation? Second, what are they going to do about the filibuster, which threatens to impede any meaningful legislative action, which, come to think of it, means as a third question facing Democrats, just what are they going to do about West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin?
Joining me now is Siobhan Hughes, Capitol Hill reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks for being here, Siobhan.
Siobhan Hughes: It's so good to speak with you, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's go through each of those three. Let's begin with voting rights legislation. Is there any chance at this point for any meaningful legislative action on this, even if it's not going to be the For the People. Are there other bills that could make it through?
Siobhan Hughes: There is a slim chance of action, but I wouldn't say there is no chance. The For the People Act actually consists of a whole bunch of bills. One option for Democrats is to try to pass some of those bills on an individual basis.
There's also another option waiting on the sidelines, something called the John Lewis Act, which takes aim at 2013 Supreme Court decision. That is why we're in this whole voting rights to begin with. That bill would be aimed at giving Washington back its power to approve of any election law changes made at the state level. The reason that one is of so much interest is that a Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has endorsed that in previous Congresses, and said she's going to support it again.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That one's a bit more narrowly tailored but critically important. It basically gives the 1965 Voting Rights Act its teeth back by creating a Section 4 formula [chuckles] in order to make Section 5 usable.
Siobhan Hughes: Exactly. The other thing it does is it actually creates a certain amount of nimbleness because as it is right now, H.R. 1, the bill that already passed the House, that's the For the People Act in the Senate, is already outdated. I've talked to Democrats who are now introducing standalone measures, saying, because the Republican-controlled states have acted so quickly, the For the People Act doesn't even fully addressed everything we're seeing at the state level. If the federal government were able to preclear laws before they took effect, you could address the whole kit and caboodle.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Part of the reason, obviously, this hasn't happened despite what we call a majority for Democrats in the US Senate, is that a simple majority no longer gets action on anything. You have to have 60. Talk to us about this filibuster, because it's not Mr. Smith goes to Washington. This is a whole different kind of filibuster happening.
Siobhan Hughes: This is a whole different kind of filibuster. This is not a talking filibuster in which an opponent is required to stand and hold the floor in order to block a vote from happening. This is a no-show filibuster. You don't have to show up to stop legislation from happening. Democrats are very frustrated because this is the key obstacle in the way of their entire agenda, by and large.
As you, I know, have reported and covered, there's a big effort to either eliminate the filibuster so that legislation can pass with a simple majority or perhaps tailor it. The tailoring aspect is the piece that's very much in play right now because there's some hope on the part of activists and Democrats that people like Joe Manchin, who have said they would oppose, eliminating or weakening the filibuster might in fact be open to some type of tweaks or tailoring should Republican intransigence persists as it seems likely to do.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk then about the people who live in these various states and are represented in both the House and in the Senate. When we look at broad public opinion, do people want voting rights legislation?
Siobhan Hughes: By and large, voting rights legislation is popular when you look at it across the board. People want it to be easy to access the polls. They don't want bureaucracy in the way. They don't want a lot of impediments. There is one asterisk here, though, and that has to do with something called voter ID. The requirement that you prove who you are when you show up with the polls. There was a Monmouth University poll that came out on Monday that showed 8 and 10 Americans actually do support some kind of voter ID. That's been a bit of a rub within the Democratic Caucus, and it's a big part of that conversation that's bubbling below the surface right now.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's take us somewhat smaller slice of the people and talk just for a moment about Democrats. It feels like there's maybe a little bit of internal tension, not just mentioned versus everyone else, but the concern that maybe the Biden administration doesn't see voting rights as a top agenda item. Now with this fail is just going to move on to other topics. Do you have a sense of what the administration wants to do next?
Siobhan Hughes: Joe Biden said in a statement yesterday, basically, stay tuned, I'm going to have more to say on this next week. He has designated Vice President Kamala Harris to be the point person on this to be the person who's really out there. That's nice rhetoric, but what Progressives are looking for is not just rhetoric, but a sustained daily campaign to make voting legislation a reality.
If that doesn't happen, I would expect a lot of the low-grade grumbling you're hearing coming out of the Progressive Caucus to get much, much louder. We're seeing that in a nascent form right now where some Progressive groups are already launching ads, for example, against Krysten Sinema and Arizona, pointing out that her objection to the filibuster means she is not really putting teeth into her support for voting rights.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Siobhan Hughes is a Capitol Hill reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks so much for being with us.
Siobhan Hughes: So good to speak with you, Melissa.
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