In wake of 2020 losses, GOP unites around "election integrity" message

After facing deep divisions over then-President Trump's false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, Republicans are now uniting around a message of promoting "election integrity." This comes despite state and federal officials declaring the last election one of the most secure in U.S. history. CBSN Washington reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns joins "Red and Blue" anchor Elaine Quijano with more on GOP efforts to restrict access to the polls, and a voting rights reform bill that conservatives are rallying against.

Video Transcript

ELAINE QUIJANO: After facing deep divisions in the wake of the 2020 election, Republicans appear to be uniting around the issue of election integrity. It comes despite the fact that officials from local to federal said the past election was one of the most secure ever. GOP lawmakers in more than 40 states have introduced 250 bills that would make it harder for people to vote.

The Republican National Committee announced a new initiative last month dedicated to, quote, "ensuring voters have confidence in future election processes." A new report on cbsnews.com looks into how the GOP is forgoing the traditional election post-mortem after losing control of the White House and Senate. Instead, Republicans are, quote, "pursuing a hardliners message that resonates with their base."

CBS and Washington reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns is one of the reporters behind that article and joins me now. Hi there, Caitlin. So typically following an election, both parties would assess what went wrong and where the party needs to work harder. That does not appear to be happening with the GOP this year. What's the political reason for this being the issue to focus on?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: That's right. Typically, parties look back and see what went wrong, where they could have done better, what voters they could have won, and how to try to get them back. Instead, they're looking back at the election process itself. You mention there are 40 states that have laws, or are introducing legislation at least, to curb voting laws.

But what was interesting to us is that it's not only happening at the state level, but also under the direction of the RNC from Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and also conservative outside groups getting involved in this, as well, trying to push this message. There is no doubt that former President Trump's rhetoric on this has really activated the base. These baseless claims of voter fraud have certainly motivated Republican base voters, and they are kind of responding to this, and there's a lot of energy behind this.

But those that we talked to are saying that this is an issue that is remarkably uniting multiple factions of the party at a time where there isn't quite that much, actually, to-- to unite on. So it's pretty striking. And what was striking to us was that this was a big issue at CPAC, and also an issue that former Vice President Mike Pence chose to weigh in on after being pretty silent after leaving office.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, Caitlin, in your report, you explain that conservatives are motivated by the bill which passed the House known as HR-1. It's currently in the Senate under the name S.1. What does that legislation seek to do?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Yes. This is a big landmark bill. It is broad. What it basically tries to do is it creates automatic same-day online voter registration. It makes some reforms to the redistricting process. It also expands early voting and absentee voting. Those are kind of the main tenets.

Republicans have been united against this bill. We saw that in the House, and they're keeping that opposition to the Senate bill. And their main concern, they say, is that they think this is a federal takeover of local election laws. They also take issue with some of the measures that would include public funding for elections.

But really, they see this as an animating issue among the conservative base, something that reaches not only Trump voters who are inclined to that, again, baseless message of election fraud, but also to some more moderate Republicans who are kind of against this from a traditional conservative standpoint. So this opposition is really something that's uniting the party at a time where few other issues really are.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, given that opposition, how do activists think that Democrats can save the bill?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: The biggest thing that we've been hearing from Democrats and those in favor of this legislation are saying that the filibuster needs to be abolished in order for it to get through. And they are very focused on the issue of voting rights being the issue that leads to the ending, or the elimination, of the filibuster, because traditionally in history, the filibuster had been used to try and thwart civil rights legislation. And they see this as a big impediment to passing some of these reforms.

Their concerns are not just on this bill, which, again, there are questions about whether there are enough Democrats in the Senate to support it, Joe Manchin last week said that he's still looking at it, but also when it comes to another bill that the House might pass later this year called the John Lewis Civil Rights Act, and that would restore a provision that the Supreme Court struck down several years ago that said that local-- that states had to-- that some states with a history of discrimination had to get federal approval to change election laws. And that has big implications, of course, for what we're seeing now in the state. So this certainly is a fight to watch over the coming months, especially as new introduce-- legislation around voting rights gets introduced.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, not everyone in the GOP is focusing on election integrity as a foolproof strategy. What's the potential backlash, Caitlin? And is anyone speaking about that publicly?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: That's right. One strategist, Republican strategist in Arizona said that he was concerned that this may lead to a litmus test within the party, especially in party primaries, where candidates might be compelled by the base to express this-- or to kind of talk about this sentiment, again, baseless of voter fraud and kind of repeating the former president's unfounded claims that the election was stolen. So there is some concern among Republicans that this will become such a big issue in terms of the-- the fake allegations.

But there are also others who say that this is something that is animating the base, that is driving fundraising, and especially a way for them to unite together at a time where Republicans are just trying to figure out how to weather and how to move on past the former president. So this is an issue to really keep an eye on. But it's also important to note what's going on in these states, and there are lots of restrictions being introduced. So as much as the message that Republicans want to say is election integrity also has to be looked at through the lens of potential ways to suppress the vote and make it harder for more people to vote.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right, important context. Caitlin Huey-Burns for us. Caitlin, always good to see you. Thank you.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Thank you.