Elizabeth Warren is worried. About access to the ballot box, about access to abortion, about “the fundamental freedoms in this country.” Since ending her presidential campaign over a year ago, Warren has maintained her place as a leading progressive voice in the Senate, speaking out against the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and cosponsoring legislative reforms like the For the People Act, The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation that would protect a pregnant person’s right to an abortion.
“Each intersects with the other,” the Massachusetts senator tells Teen Vogue. “A right-wing minority in this country has pushed for the appointment of a federal bench that is hostile to these basic rights. The Supreme Court is poised either to undercut Roe even further, or to overturn it altogether. They've already gutted a big part of the Voting Rights Act.”
But it is federal legislation, like the bills Warren is championing in the Senate, that could help to reassert Congress’s responsibility for maintaining these rights. ‘“This whole idea is that the right wanted to capture the Supreme Court and move the country in a direction where the majority does not want to go," says Warren. "We can thwart that by having a Congress that shows a little more courage and that steps up and, by statute, protects the vote and protects access to abortion. This is within our hands.”
In an exclusive interview with Teen Vogue, the senator discusses ending the filibuster, the intersection between access to health care and access to the ballot box, and what young people can do to make sure their voices are heard.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Teen Vogue: You recently met with the Texas Democratic delegation that fled to Washington to derail the passage of a restrictive voting law. You had a lot of encouragement for them, but you also said, “The moment is upon us. It is not enough for us [in Congress] to say that ‘we support you.’ We must change the law.” How hopeful are you that we will see that and see an end to the filibuster?
Elizabeth Warren: I have been fighting for a long time to get rid of the filibuster. And I want to see Congress do that. I think it's the right thing to do. The founders of this nation figured out when a supermajority should be necessary and when it shouldn't. They said that for regular legislation, that a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate, and the president who will sign the bill means it should become law. The exceptions they created were for treaties that overruled state law and impeachments. There is nothing in the Constitution that gives Mitch McConnell a veto over what Congress does. I would like to see us do this immediately.
When I talked about this two years ago, I'm not sure that there would have been a majority of Democrats who would have voted to get rid of the filibuster. But that has changed, in part as Mitch McConnell has made it clear again that his principle mission in life is to defeat a Democratic president and keep that president from doing anything. I am hopeful because I've seen movement — a lot of movement in the last year.
There are many steps between where we stand now, where Mitch McConnell can snap his fingers and we're in a filibuster, and outright repeal. So there's the talking filibuster. There's the one-time exception or two-time exception where senators say, "Voting is so important" or "The rights of human beings to have their constitutional rights protected" — as in the constitutional right to an abortion — “are so important” that the senators will set aside the filibuster temporarily. They can do that. So that's where I start this. And I'll take anything to get us moving forward.
TV: Aside from obstruction by McConnell, what are some of the other reasons you feel Democrats are moving forward on the question of the filibuster?
EW: After all the discussion about bipartisanship over the past six months, the Democrats offered amendments to the voting rights bill that we were moving forward. Republicans made substantial changes at the end. Joe Manchin wanted another round of changes, and the rest of the Democrats agreed to that. We then took that bill to the floor and not one single Republican voted even to permit discussion of voting rights, much less a vote to change the law. So I think that changes the context for a lot of the senators. They say, "The days when we can pretend that a rational argument will produce a good bipartisan result, those days are just over." I think that's one of the things that has moved us along.
The fact that some states are doubling down on voter suppression and doubling down on preventing access to abortion [also] means that the whole context for the filibuster debate has changed. It's no longer the case that the states are rocking along where they are, and there's some legislation at the central level that might make things better. Instead, it's that the states are taking on long-established, constitutional principles — the principle that American citizens have a right to vote and to get that vote counted, the principle that people have a right to an abortion. Those principles are being so thoroughly undermined at the state level that the urgency of federal action intensifies every day.
TV: Thanks to decades of work by Black and brown activists, and especially young Black women, there seems to be an increasing realization that voting isn’t just a separate issue in and of itself. Do you have a sense that more people are realizing that the suppression of the vote goes hand in hand with the suppression of their rights?
EW: Yes, I do. Now that may say a lot about the women I hang out with! But I routinely have conversations that start out as a discussion about voting and quickly become a discussion about abortion. I also regularly have conversations that start as discussions about abortion and quickly become conversations about voting. Because both have constitutional footing. And both are under severe attack by hostile state legislators. I think more people are seeing that connection. And I agree with you. I think for a long time, it has gone under the radar screen. But I think an increasing number of people, especially young people, are seeing that connection. Because they are seeing both rights very much at risk, [and] put very much at risk by this Supreme Court.
TV: Do you feel like voting rights and abortion rights are really the key issues to making sure that the freedoms of voters and people in this country are protected?
EW: Both voting and access to abortion are basic. They're about the functioning of our democracy and about the protection of personal autonomy. Protection of the vote means your voice gets heard in government. Protection of access to basic health care means your autonomy as a human being is fully respected by the law. That you will make the decisions about yourself. To me, that's part of the heart of what all of this is about. This is where the two big fights are shaping up right now. And each intersects with the other. Both from the perspective of respect for the individual, and also from a political point of view. The right-wing extremists know that if they can keep people from voting, they've got a better chance to impose their views about abortion on an unwilling nation. I don't have to tell you, [one 2018 poll found that] 71% of Americans support Roe. Now, when 71% of Americans support something, including 52% of Republicans, you'd think it would be easy to make that law.
It is a small but intensely focused group of people who want to impose their will on the majority of this nation. It is fundamentally antidemocratic.… This is a Republican Party that now openly admits that their only chance to hang on to power is to keep a substantial number of American citizens from voting. And why is that so? Because what they want to do is not popular with Democrats or Republicans.
TV: What ways do you think young people can best mobilize their power going forward to let lawmakers at the federal level and their state lawmakers know that they're going to make sure their voices are heard on issues like this?
EW: Speak up. Loud. In as many ways as you can. Do it through texts and TikTok and Snapchat and Facebook. But also show up in person whenever you can. If there's a town hall or a meet-and-greet with your local officials, show up, raise your hand, and ask a question. Ask about this issue. My advice is to do that whether your elected officials are Democrats or Republicans. Move it up on their agenda. Tell them it's an important issue for you. And as we start swinging into the 2022 elections, get engaged. Volunteer. Get your friends engaged. Make sure you're registered to vote. Get your friends registered to vote. Work on turnout.... Make sure that everyone you talk with understands what's at stake here. The year 2022 could be the critical [one] in what happens to a person's access to health care and to democracy.
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue