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President Biden Says The Fight Over Voting Rights Is Far From Over

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Joe Biden campaigned as someone who could reach across the aisle. It's part of his record. It is part of his brand. So what's happening in Congress right now over voting rights is a big blow to him. Yesterday, Senate Republicans unanimously voted to block a massive voting rights bill. Now the only option left for the Democrats is to get a fundamental rule of the legislating process - the filibuster - changed, overturned, even, which could be the death knell for bipartisanship now and later. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid joins us now to talk about this. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So getting this particular bill through in this moment was always a long shot for Democrats. Now what?

KHALID: Well, now what means - I would say it's rather unclear. You know, the president issued a statement last night in which he described Republicans' behavior as yet, quote, "another attack on voting rights that is sadly not unprecedented." He didn't articulate what he or his party's next moves might be - he said he'd have more to say on the topic next week - but that the fight over the issue, he says, is, quote, "far from over." You know, Rachel, frankly, some progressives do feel like the president has not actually used the perch of his office enough on this issue. And multiple Democratic activists told me that they see eliminating the filibuster as the only option to get some key Democratic priorities through Congress.

MARTIN: But how likely is that, Asma?

KHALID: I will say it is extremely unlikely, in part because they need unanimous Democratic support to eliminate the filibuster, and we know that there are a couple of Democrats who have publicly come out and said that they are not behind this. But what I will say is that there is frustration with the status quo amongst a number of Democratic activists. I caught up with Cliff Albright. He's the co-founder of Black Votes Matter (ph). And he told me that compromise in and of itself is not a noble strategy.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: You had a hundred-and-something Republicans that voted to essentially overturn a presidential election. If that's going to be your benchmark of bipartisanship, then you've failed before you even got out the door.

KHALID: And, you know, some progressives feel like the idea of bipartisanship actually fell apart long before the 2020 election. Ezra Levin is a co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible.

EZRA LEVIN: The road to bipartisanship was demolished over a decade ago by Mitch McConnell when he said his No. 1 priority was making Barack Obama a one-term president. And we know the road was demolished back then because he said this year that he is, quote, "a hundred percent focused" on stopping Joe Biden's agenda.

KHALID: And Levin told me that he thought the Biden administration got off to a good start with the COVID relief bill that passed, clearly, you know, purely along party lines, but he's frustrated that the administration isn't replicating that strategy now with other priorities.

MARTIN: But, Asma, there are bipartisanship talks happening on other big issues right now, right? I mean, infrastructure and police reform.

KHALID: Yes, that's right. You know, and in terms of bipartisanship, there was actually a moment yesterday where a couple of top White House officials were on Capitol Hill for talks specifically on this infrastructure package. Their visit does indicate a level of seriousness from the Biden administration about wanting to find some sort of compromise deal, but there still remain sticking points over how to pay for that infrastructure package. And what I will say is that even as these negotiations are going on, even some of the more centrist voices in the party are beginning to question what can really be done across party lines.

Jim Kessler is the co-founder of Third Way, and he says we'll know the answer about the future of bipartisanship in the next few weeks, as these discussions play out.

JIM KESSLER: They're either going to come together, or they are going to stall, and then the clock really starts getting to that witching hour where you just have to say, we're going to move on, because the most precious resource in Washington, D.C., is time on the Senate floor, and that will start to run dry after the July 4 recess.

KHALID: And on police reform, he says that public policy inevitably will run up against politics. Republicans seem to think that crime and policing is a hot-button issue for them.

MARTIN: President Biden is going to talk about that today, right? He's delivering remarks on crime. This comes as a lot of cities are seeing a surge in crime; more voters are seeing it as a political priority.

KHALID: The administration is going to be announcing a strategy to curb the uptick in crime that they've seen recently. And, you know, this includes expanding summer programs for teens, you know, trying to stem the flow of firearms. But one really important detail is that they're going to allow communities that have experienced an uptick in gun violence to use COVID relief money to hire more police officers. You know, the administration recognizes crime is on the rise, and they're trying to get out ahead of this issue before it becomes too much of a political liability.

MARTIN: NPR's Asma Khalid. She covers the White House. Asma, thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.