Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth: Voting rights ‘fight is not over’

ABC News’ Linsey Davis speaks with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., about the battles over voting rights reform and the Senate filibuster.
7:59 | 01/14/22

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Transcript for Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth: Voting rights ‘fight is not over’
- --has been a challenging day for the Biden administration after a noticeably frustrated president bluntly told reporters he doesn't know if he can get federal voting rights legislation passed. But he says he will continue to fight. ABC'S Rachel Scott has more on if that fight may ultimately get anywhere. RACHEL SCOTT: Tonight, a tough blow for President Biden from a member of his own party. Less than an hour before the president was due to arrive on Capitol Hill to make a direct plea to Democrats to change the Senate rules to get voting rights legislation passed, Senator Kyrsten Sinema declared she's not on board. - While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country. RACHEL SCOTT: Her announcement undercutting the president's visit. And when he emerged from his meeting with Senate Democrats, the president sounding somewhat defeated. - I hope we can get this done. The honest to God answer is I don't know we're gonna get this done. But one thing for certain. One thing for certain. Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we missed the first time, we can come back and try it a second time. - The president suggesting there may be another opportunity to get another bite at the apple. Rachel Scott joins us now. Rachel, some news tonight about Senators Manchin and Sinema meeting with the president. What's the latest? - Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema heading to the White House to meet with the president again face to face. This comes after the president was here on Capitol Hill. He made a direct plea to both of those senators. Well, turns out they have not changed their minds. In fact, Senator Manchin only digging in tonight, saying changing the Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation would be an easy way out, Linsey. LINSEY DAVIS: Rachel Scott reporting it from Capitol Hill. Thanks so much, Rachel. And to continue the conversation on voting rights, we bring in Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Senator, thanks so much for coming on the show. - It's great to be on. Thank you. - So I want to get your reaction not just to Senator Sinema's speech today laying out why she will not support changing Senate rules, but also the timing of her statements coming shortly ahead of Biden's meeting with Senate Democrats. Do you think that her point is a reasonable one? - You know, I think that she's missing the mark. She said this before where she thinks that she's preserving the institution that it's a blunt force that could be used against any party that's in the minority including the Democrats once we-- or, you know, if we're no longer in the majority. But frankly, we're talking about restoring the filibuster. We're talking about changing the rules for this one vote. And I think that it is critically important to pass voting rights protections. And you know, we do this all the time. We just did it for the debt ceiling where we changed the rules for one vote, and she was willing to vote for it then. So I don't know why she wouldn't be willing to vote for it again for an important piece of legislation like protecting Americans' access to the polls. - And now, as you know, the push for federal election reform was always gonna be an uphill battle. And it's been fairly clear for some time now that Democrats just didn't have the votes to pass it, nor would they have the votes to eliminate the filibuster. In your opinion, have the Democrats and the president lost any political capital as a result of this fight? - You know, the fight's not over yet. I will tell you that there are many Republicans who actually have given a lot of input into the voting rights bills that we are working on. Joe Manchin is leading 1 to 4 the People Act. Lots of Republicans have given us input on that. But they've come back and said, hey, you know what? Even though we're giving you input, and you're taking our input, we can't vote for this because it's a red line. Mitch McConnell has told us this is a red line. We can't vote on this. So this is less about whether or not Democrats have been successful as it is about the fact that Republicans-- and by the way, over a dozen of the Republicans that are in office today voted for voting rights legislation just 15-- you know, just a few years ago. And yet they are not willing to vote for the same bill again now today. LINSEY DAVIS: But you say the fight is not over. Where do you see this potentially going then? Because at the same time, you're saying that the Republicans are saying this is a red line, and they can't support it. They won't vote for it. So what could be a possible potential outcome that you would be in favor of? - Well, I think that we can do some things with the filibuster in order to get both Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema to agree to it. One is to carve out, as the president said today-- just allow for this one vote to happen. And we've done this before where we have a simple majority where we've changed the rules for a single vote. We did it for the debt ceiling before we broke for the new year, for example. We can do the same thing for voting rights legislation where we're saying this is so critically important to our nation. We're gonna suspend the filibuster the way it is for this one vote in order to make sure we protect Americans' rights to vote. LINSEY DAVIS: And the president seems though like he's been-- or potentially about to be shot down again by members of his own party. While 48 of you agree, 2 of you don't. Why do you think even appeals from the president at this point haven't been able to get all the Democrats on the same page? TAMMY DUCKWORTH: Well, you're gonna have to ask Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin on that. I think that, you know, we just come from a different place. My position is I would rather protect the rights of people to vote, of all Americans to vote, versus protecting the right of one senator to prevent them from being able to vote. And that's what we're talking about, changing the Senate filibuster procedures and basically restoring it to the way it was pre-Jim Crow era. LINSEY DAVIS: And some of your colleagues on the other side of the aisle accuse Democrats of what they call fake hysteria over voting laws and say that lawmakers should be focused on issues like the economy and national security and not on what they call breaking the Senate. What do you make of that argument? - Well, what I make of that argument is that we've tried three different times now to put voting rights legislation on the floor. And not a single Republican was willing to vote for it. Not just to pass it, but were not willing to vote to bring it to a debate. If there's no real issue, then go ahead, and let's have a debate on it. And only Senator Murkowski of Alaska on the last attempt was the only Republican to vote to open debate on it. If it's not an issue, and you want to protect the filibuster so much, then vote to allow us to have a debate on the floor so the Americans could see what the issue is. But frankly, you see some laws that are being passed around this country that are egregious when it comes to allowing people access to the polls. I'll give you an example. In Georgia, it is now illegal to give someone who's standing in line for 10 hours a drink of water as they're standing in line waiting to exercise their right to vote. What does that have to do with voting? The Republican secretary of State in Georgia sent out voter registration forms to all of the registered voters a absentee ballot in the last election. That is now illegal. LINSEY DAVIS: And before you go, just on another topic here another headline today, of course-- the Supreme Court knocking down President Biden's vaccine mandate for large businesses. How problematic is this in your estimation? - Well, I think it is pretty problematic. I don't know how it's consistent with the fact that we do have vaccine mandates in all sorts of other places. You know, I served in the military. I got something like five out of the six anthrax vaccines before I was wounded in combat. But we've had all sorts of mandates for vaccines in all sorts of places. So it is a problem. It is an issue. But frankly, bottom line, the virus doesn't care. The virus is still gonna be out there. And you're gonna get sick from it. So it is in your very best interest to make sure that you are vaccinated not just for yourself, but for the people that you love as well. LINSEY DAVIS: Senator Tammy Duckworth, once again, we appreciate your time. Thanks so much for talking with us tonight. - My pleasure thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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