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Kamala Harris talks voting rights legislation in NBC News exclusive: ‘We will not give up’

The vice president spoke to TODAY’s Craig Melvin about passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
/ Source: TODAY

Following her trip with President Joe Biden to Atlanta to mobilize the Democratic Party, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Craig Melvin on Wednesday about the push to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The acts would restore and add to full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as prevent voter suppression. A majority of the Senate Democrats support the legislation, but Senate Republicans are expected to oppose the acts. 

“When we have the discussion about who’s responsible, I will not absolve the 50 Republicans in the United States Senate from responsibility for upholding one of the most basic and important tenets of our democracy, which is free and fair elections and access to the ballot for all eligible voters,” Vice President Harris explained in a preview of the sit-down that aired Wednesday on NBC Nightly News.

Craig inquired about conservative Democrats Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, who have not committed to backing the proposed voting rights legislation. Vice President Harris replied, “I don’t think anyone should be absolved from the responsibility of preserving and protecting our democracy.” 

She added, “Especially when they took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution.”

The vice president revealed she is “absolutely” making phone calls to ensure the legislation is passed. 

Some members of the Democratic Party have criticized President Biden and his administration for waiting too long to defend voting rights. Craig asked the vice president about the amount of time it has taken to address voting rights. 

“But you’re acting as though it’s over,” Harris responded. “It’s not over.” 

With the impending deadline looming, Craig wondered if the acts would be passed by Monday.

Harris said, “I’m saying it’s not over. And we don’t give up. We don’t give up and we will not give up.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced earlier this month that Democrats plan to pass voting rights protections by Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

“We hope our Republican colleagues change course and work with us,” he wrote in a letter that called out politicians on the other side of the aisle. “But if they do not, the Senate will debate and consider changes to Senate rules on or before January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protect the foundation of our democracy: free and fair elections.” 

On Tuesday, President Biden gave a speech at the Atlanta University Center Consortium calling for an end to the filibuster, which would allow the voting rights bills to be passed. 

“Pass it now,” he said. “I am tired of being quiet.”

Voting rights activists have been waiting for Biden to speak out about the wave of restrictive voting laws that have been passed since he was sworn into office. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have approved laws since last year that make it more difficult to vote. 

Some influential activists chose to not attend Tuesday’s speech. Although Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, did make an appearance, they told MSNBC that it was a “difficult decision.”

Waters King said, “We certainly understand the frustration of our local partners here in Georgia. It’s been a long year of a lot of things not being done, and we stand and we share that frustration.”

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and prominent voting rights activist Stacey Abrams was absent from the speech, but according to AP News her aide confirmed that she had a scheduling conflict.

“While I was not able to attend today’s event, the President and I connected by phone this morning,” she tweeted after the speech. “We reaffirmed our shared commitment to the American project of freedom and democracy, as he did in his remarks today here in Georgia.”

Abrams continued, “We must pave the way for swift Senate passage, because as President Biden declared today, if Republicans continue to prevent passage of legislation to protect the freedom to vote, “we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster.”