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Sen. Klobuchar Is In Georgia To Get Evidence From Voting Rights Discussions

NOEL KING, HOST:

In the current session of Congress, Republican-led state legislatures in 48 states have introduced at least 389 restrictive voting bills. At least 14 states have passed voting bills into law. Meanwhile, a federal voting rights bill cannot pass in the divided Senate. On the line from Georgia with me now is Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota. Good morning.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, hello, Noel. And by the way, thank you for announcing the Tour de France winner, who is, like me, Slovenian. I'm the only Slovenian senator. And note that it is really hard to find someone that rhymes with my name, Klobuchar. You've got...

KING: (Laughter) Well, congratulations to you...

KLOBUCHAR: ...Pogacar.

KING: ...And all Slovenians and Slovenian Americans. Let me start by asking - we don't usually reach you in Georgia, of course.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes.

KING: You are there holding the first Senate Rules Committee meeting in the field in 20 years. What are you doing in Georgia?

KLOBUCHAR: This couldn't be more important, Noel. We are seeing, as you just pointed out, nearly 400 bills that have been introduced across the country, a number of them actually signed into law, including this one right here in Georgia, which is Exhibit A - so egregious with the limits it puts on mail-in balloting, on ballot boxes, on no water for voters in line to be given out by nonpartisan volunteers. That is banned. You can't even believe what they've done - a runoff, which Senator Ossoff and Warnock won. That's been reduced to 28 days, but you have to register to vote 29 days earlier. So you can't even register to vote in the runoff, and you finally can't even vote on weekends in the runoff. It is done to sow confusion.

So we're here to get out of Washington, to really get the facts and the evidence to bring them back to Washington so our colleagues can see how bad this truly is and that we are not giving up the torch that's been handed to us by the Texas legislators, by state legislators all over the country, to continue the work. And the rules committee's never gone on the road for decades, but we're starting now, and we're not going to end here.

KING: What is the tangible result you want from this meeting? Because I know that some people might look at you down there and say, well, you're not going to bring Republicans around in the Senate, and so you being there is purely symbolic, and nothing's really going to come out of it. What do you make of that?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, I don't think that's what people said in the 1960s when no one thought there was hope to get employment legislation done or education legislation done, civil rights legislation. They just kept going. And part of what they did is they kept going all over the country. They just didn't limit their work to Washington. So and - what I see is this. We have many routes in front of us. We've got the negotiation with Senator Manchin, which has been going very well, on the For the People Act. And even what we've agreed to so far would include basic federal voting rights for same-day registration and so many of the things - the DISCLOSE Act, gerrymandering - so many of the things that would get at the concerns we're going to hear today in Georgia.

Secondly, there's the John Lewis Act. In the anniversary of his death here, House hearings are starting to get the evidence and data we need to get at that. The third piece of it is right in front of us - the reconciliation bill, which is that infrastructure package, not the bipartisan one, which is proceeding this week, I hope, but the one that's going to be including child care and housing. We can include election infrastructure in that, and we will do everything to tie it to these incentives for mail-in balloting. It is no substitute for the basic federal rights, but it's at least something we can do that's tangible immediately. And then finally, we got a Justice Department that's not Bill Barr's Justice Department anymore. Vanita Gupta, Kristen Clarke - people who are so knowledgeable in election law - are already taking on these cases.

KING: You said you're talking to Senator Manchin, who has said that he won't support voting rights legislation if it lacks bipartisan support. Has that changed?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, now, first of all, he is supportive of legislation. He's been very clear on that, and that's why he spent weeks and weeks working on a bill that - I, in fact - Stacey Abrams - I was with Stacey yesterday with voters who wait in line for eight hours, veterans, out in Cobb County here. Barack Obama has voiced his support for this. So Joe does favor legislation that includes federal basic rights.

KING: OK.

KLOBUCHAR: But the issue, of course, is the process; it's the filibuster. And that one is the tricky part. And what he has said in the past is that he is open to standing filibusters. I'm pushing at least a carve-out for federal voting law of the existing filibuster. I personally would abolish it, the filibuster. I want to get climate change legislation done - just heard that on your news program, how important that is. I want to get immigration reform done and do some of the things we've been waiting for decades to do. But we need to find a way and a path to get this done. And as I just laid out, there are several different ones, and I just am not going to give up hope.

I started my day yesterday with Reverend Warnock at Ebenezer Church, and he said something I will never forget. He said, a vote is a prayer; it's a prayer for a better world, a prayer for your kids' education, a prayer that you're going to finally be able to do something about this world's environment. And so people go in Georgia, they stood in line last time to do that. We owe these people not giving up and continuing on this fight

KING: In the last minute we have left, have you thought much about what Democrats stand to lose in the midterms, beyond the midterms, if new restrictions on mail-in voting or poll hours are adopted even more widely?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, I've heard from my colleague, Senator Tester in Montana, state - he's not up this next time. But, you know, he is in a state very different than Georgia. But they are messing around with the laws in that state. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin - of course, I think about it. But you know what I really think, Noel? Our democracy, America. Minnesota has some of the best voting laws in the country, and we've elected Republican governors, Democratic governors and Jesse Ventura. Like, for me, this is about allowing people to share in the franchise that is our democracy so they feel part of it no matter who wins.

KING: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota. Thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Noel. It was great to be on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.