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The future of the filibuster on Capitol Hill

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There's a push on Capitol Hill to ensure all Americans have their voices heard through the "For the People Act." But the legislation is facing a filibuster in the Senate, something that could potentially kill the bill. That has some Democrats calling for an end to the political move to help pass more legislation. Nikki Battiste spoke with Michael Wines, a national correspondent for The New York Times, about the future of the filibuster.

Video Transcript

NIKKI BATTISTE: There's a push on Capitol Hill to ensure all Americans have their voices heard through For The People Act. But the legislation is facing a major snag that could potentially kill it. The Democrat-backed bill passed the House but is now stuck in the Senate. Designated Senate Bill 1, it faces a filibuster. The goal of the bill is to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws, and limit gerrymandering, among other things.

Joining us now to talk more about this is Michael Wines. He is a national correspondent with the "New York Times". Michael, first tell us a little more about Senate Bill 1. What's at stake, and why is it running into roadblocks in the Senate?

MICHAEL WINES: Well, when this bill first started out in the last session of Congress, it was basically a Democratic wish list. It was an effort to state what Democrats thought ought to be done to change the system. Since then, I think it's really become in a lot of people's eyes sort of an existential piece of legislation.

The last election saw the president winning by 11,000 votes, 20,000 votes in some very big states. That was followed by, in this spring, efforts by Republicans in those states and others to enact laws restricting voting, keeping people from turning out. So this bill has become-- rather than just a statement, it's become an answer. A way to, in Democrats' mind, keep voting free, keep it open, keep it available to as many people as possible rather than being restricted.

NIKKI BATTISTE: Some Senate Democrats oppose the potential changes. What are their concerns?

MICHAEL WINES: Senate Democrats?

NIKKI BATTISTE: Yes.

MICHAEL WINES: Some of the Senate Democrats, I think, have concerns about some of the provisions that have nothing to do with elections. For instance, campaign finance reforms. They look at it as a free speech issue. Other Democrats like much of what's in the bill, but they have concerns about doing away with the filibuster.

The filibuster is a big issue on this. They're not going to get 10 votes in the Senate to pass this bill as is. So you would have to have all 50 Democrats to vote for it. And there are some who have real reluctance about abandoning this Senate tool.

NIKKI BATTISTE: Michael we're talking about the attempts, the wanting to kill the filibuster. What is the Republican take on that?

MICHAEL WINES: Well, the Republicans say that the filibuster is is an old and established part of Senate procedures, and that it enables protections for the minority in the Senate. That if you simply eliminate the filibuster, that the majority, regardless of whether it's Republicans or Democrats, will simply run roughshod.

Democrats disagree with that. They say that the filibuster has been used, particularly in recent decades, to stall almost any legislation that the minority doesn't agree with. And in fact, that's true. You know, the filibuster these days is not what we saw in "Mr. Smith Comes to Washington", where you stand up for a day or two days and talk constantly. It's become a method of blocking any consideration of legislation, simply by saying we object to it. And if you can't get 60 votes, the legislation doesn't move.

NIKKI BATTISTE: Michael, President Biden says he's on board for the so-called talking filibuster. Is that more likely to get traction in the Senate?

MICHAEL WINES: Hard to tell. We still have some Republicans, Kirsten Sinema in Arizona, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, perhaps others, who have real doubts about this. I think it's going to come down in the end to pressure from the grassroots, from their constituents.

And this bill actually has aroused incredible angst among groups out in the states, from Arizona to Georgia. Groups like Indivisible, which were founded after President Trump took office. They've really become agitated about this and they've started a nationwide campaign to try to persuade senators to push it, and if necessary, to modify the filibuster perhaps so that you can get this bill through.

NIKKI BATTISTE: If the filibuster was eliminated, how could that impact future legislation?

MICHAEL WINES: Well, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a speech on the Senate floor just the other day in which he said that if the filibuster is abandoned, he would start a scorched earth policy that he would ensure that nothing in the Senate moved.

He said you'd need unanimous consent even to turn on the lights in the Senate. And so he would use every procedural method at his disposal to ensure the Senate couldn't act. He also said that Republicans will come back in power someday. And when they do, there's going to be a lot of legislation that Democrats don't like that will be brought up and passed over their objections because they won't have the protection of the filibuster.

NIKKI BATTISTE: We will all be watching. Michael Wines, thank you.

MICHAEL WINES: You're welcome.