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Major Election Reform And Voting Rights Bill Passed By The House

NOEL KING, HOST:

Lawmakers in the House passed a broad voting rights bill last night. It also includes an overhaul of campaign finance. The bill was opposed by every House Republican. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it is the top legislative priority after the coronavirus relief bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Everything is at stake. We must win this race, this fight for this bill, because at the same time as we are gathering here to honor our democracy across the country, over 200 bills are being put together - provisions are putting forth to suppress the vote.

KING: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What's in this bill?

LIASSON: This bill is very ambitious, covers a lot of items. It's similar to a bill the Democrats passed in the last Congress, which, of course, went nowhere in the then-Republican controlled Senate. But it expands access to the ballot box - automatic voter registration; it expands early voting, mail-in voting. Those things were key to the Democratic strategy in the 2020 election.

And as usual, in these big fights, it's a fight about language. Democrats talk about voter suppression. Republicans talk about voter integrity. Democrats say this bill is urgent now, as you heard Nancy Pelosi say, because there are hundreds of bills in Republican-controlled state legislatures right now that would roll back access to the polls.

And both sides see this as an existential political issue. Many Republicans believe that the more people who can vote, the fewer Republicans who will be elected. Donald Trump even said that if a bill like this passed, no Republican would ever win again. He's even called this bill a monster that has to be stopped. Democrats see these laws pending in states as things that would suppress their voters - young people, urban voters, African Americans.

KING: What were some of the specific Republican arguments against? I mean, how did they make the case, we don't want this?

LIASSON: They argue that this bill is a massive federal takeover of elections, that voting laws should be left to the states - very familiar argument for Republicans. And they say that these new provisions would lead to fraud, even though, as we've said many times on this program, the Trump Justice Department and 59 judges, many of which appointed by Trump, looked at the election in 2020 and found no evidence of widespread fraud.

KING: The Senate is split 50-50, so what are the prospects for this bill there?

LIASSON: Not good. Democrats, as you said, have narrow control, but they don't have the 60 votes this would need to pass. This bill and the issue of voting rights in general is something that progressive Democrats say is the reason it's time for Democrats to get rid of the filibuster or at least reform the filibuster rules so that they can pass this kind of a bill with a simple majority.

But Democrats themselves are divided about that. Senator Manchin, who's the center of gravity right now on Capitol Hill, has said he would never vote to overturn the filibuster. But yesterday, Chris Coons, Democratic senator of Delaware, told NPR that although he is a supporter of the filibuster in general, this is the one issue - voting rights - that might make him reconsider.

KING: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.