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President Biden's on the road to Atlanta to push for new voting rights legislation

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden's been on the road these past few days and will turn his attention to voting rights in the week ahead. He'll do that in Georgia, a state he won narrowly in 2020 and that's become ground zero in the fight over election integrity. The president says what he's proposing is vital.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written - not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, who's been traveling with President Biden, joins us now from Las Vegas. Asma, thanks for being with us.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Happy to join you all.

SIMON: And the president has been and will be on the road. Where has he been? Where will he be?

KHALID: Well, the president was in Colorado yesterday. He toured the fire damage in Boulder County, met with families who had lost everything. I mean, really, Scott, some of these homes were nothing more than scraps of foundation in the ground. We're here now in Las Vegas because the president is attending a memorial service for Harry Reid, who was, of course, the longtime Democratic leader in the Senate. It is worth pointing out that Reid was instrumental to changing some of the filibuster rules, and President Biden has been under pressure to support more changes to the filibuster. That is, logistically, what it would take to pass any sort of voting rights legislation in this current Congress.

SIMON: Next week, the president goes to Atlanta, and he plans to speak explicitly about voting rights there. What can we infer about what he's going to say?

KHALID: The White House points out that Georgia was not only key in the civil rights movement, but recently it's attracted a lot of national attention because of new restrictions that the Justice Department says have disenfranchised Black voters. Democrats in Congress want to pass legislation on voting rights, but these bills have stalled out, largely because of the filibuster. There are a lot of different measures in these bills - some things like making Election Day a holiday, securing mail-in voting. Here's how press secretary Jen Psaki described what President Biden will say next week.

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JEN PSAKI: He'll talk about the specifics. And he's very focused on people in the country understanding and knowing what is in this legislation. Why is it so important to pass these pieces of legislation? What is at risk? What needs to be protected?

KHALID: But the big question is, will this speech actually lead to concrete change? You know, activists want more than rhetoric. They have been saying this. And there are questions about whether the president's speech will yet again raise expectations, but he won't necessarily have the congressional support to back this up and make it into any sort of legislation.

SIMON: Asma, how big a priority can these bills be when the president is still facing, as we know, so many challenges around COVID?

KHALID: Well, COVID is still the key priority. The president told reporters yesterday that he believes the country is going to be able to control the pandemic. And even if the virus is here to stay in some ways, he said, we'll have more tools to contain it, so the new normal isn't going to look like the current COVID surge. There is now a big push from the White House on testing. This week, we're going to see some more details on the administration's testing plans. On Friday, the government signed the first contract to buy those mass quantities of the free at-home test kits that we've been talking a lot about. And the president has said that testing will help keep COVID under control and do things like keep schools open, which is, of course, especially important with this highly contagious omicron variant just given the chaos that some cities experienced this past week with school closures.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, thanks so much.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.