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Shaheen says filibuster stands in the way of federal voting rights legislation, needs to change

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on Capitol Hill.
Austin Cowan
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NHPR
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on Capitol Hilll.

The U.S. Senate is in its first session of 2022. There are some big items at stake, including voting rights legislation that would ensure access to early and mail-in voting, President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better plan and more.

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U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen joined NHPR to discuss how upcoming legislation impacts Granite Staters.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Rick Ganley: Today is the anniversary of the insurrection at the Capitol. The House Committee investigating the attack is wading through several lines of investigation, witnesses and evidence. What would you like to see from that committee as they continue that investigation?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, I hope they can find a factual trail about the source of that insurrection and the mob attack on the Capitol. What to me is equally troubling is the effort by so many people to deny that that's what happened. And I find that particularly concerning because we saw with our own eyes, a mob attacked the Capitol and tried to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power which is the hallmark of our democracy. And so it's important to find answers to find out all of those responsible and to hold them accountable.

Ganley: People's perception of the day obviously seems to be very politically polarized. Do you think that's getting in the way of any real accountability?

Sen. Shaheen: I do. I think the fact that there are so many who still deny for various reasons the fact that that was a free and fair election and who think that Donald Trump was correct when he talked about it being stolen. That's very troubling because that again undermines our democracy.

There are several things that are the hallmark of democracies. One is that average people have the right to vote, that it's not based on how much power you have or how much money you have or other things, but that everybody who qualifies in our system should be allowed to vote.

And the other thing is that when there are elections that people trust that those elections were fair and that whoever wins then takes the power, even if we don't like the outcome. In 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College under our system, he lost that election. And you know, I didn't like it, but I recognize that that's the way our system works. And I, as governor, did everything I could to cooperate with George W. Bush on issues that were important to New Hampshire.

What are senators on the other side of the aisle saying to you behind closed doors? What's the tone like behind closed doors away from cameras?

Sen. Shaheen: I think most of my colleagues agree that January 6th was a terrible day in the history of America. That we need to make sure it never gets repeated and that we respond to the underlying causes that contributed to it.

Ganley: There are two voting rights bills before the Senate: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Several listeners wrote in to ask about your approach to current voting rights legislation. What are you and your party prepared to do to this legislation before the midterms?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, I'm a co-sponsor of both of those pieces of legislation and have been on the John Lewis bill in several sessions of Congress. I think virtually everybody in the Democratic caucus is supporting both of those pieces of legislation. The challenge, of course, in passing them, is the filibuster.

As we watch what's happening in New Hampshire with the gerrymandering of our congressional districts, with the effort to restrict voting for certain individuals in the state, it just underscores how important it is for us to pass legislation at the federal level that prevents that kind of gerrymandering and that ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity to vote.

Ganley: Are you willing to modify the filibuster rule to allow bills to pass with a simple majority? Where do you stand on that?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, since I got to the Senate, I've been saying we need to change the rules of the Senate. We need to address the filibuster because it's not working. And so I think we do need to do that.

Ganley: President Biden's Build Back Better plan invests nearly $2 trillion in social programs and climate provisions, but the future is uncertain without that full Democratic support. Right now, it seems like it's not there. Do you see a way forward for those issues?

Sen. Shaheen: I do. I think what is in the Build Back Better legislation are elements that are so important to families in this country, to small businesses, to address climate change, which is a threat that we see really daily in New Hampshire and that the support for that means that we've got to get this done.

We need to ensure that people who need access to child care have that access and there are significant provisions in the bill to do that. I think we need to extend the child tax credit, which ended at the end of 2021, and we have so many families who need that help as they're thinking about how they bring up their kids. For those people who are dependent on home and community based services, they're significant help for them. And that's a critical issue not only for people who are disabled, but for older people who, as they age, want to stay and we want to stay in our homes. We don't want to have to go to long-term care facilities, and that's critical to doing that. And then, of course, help for health care. As we look at how we expand the ability of people to get access to health care, there's significant help in the legislation to do that as well.

So I think we will go back to the table. We will get agreement on the provisions that are critical to families in the state. It may not be what everybody wants, but that's the story of doing legislation: you have to compromise.

Ganley: Obviously, the president has been trying for a while now on Build Back Better, and it seems like the votes just aren't there at the end of the year with Senator Joe Manchin saying he's not for it. Where do you go from here?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, again, I think we go back to the table and we keep working on it. And we also need to work on other things that are important to the country, and I'm hopeful that I think we can do both. At the same time, we can continue to look at what is going to be acceptable to all the members of the Senate or at least the majority and then continue to try and get that done.

Ganley: Are there ways to do things like extend the Child Tax Credit outside of Build Back Better?

Sen. Shaheen: There are. We could do that as a separate piece of legislation.

Ganley: Do you see the will there for that?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, the will is there on the Democratic side, I think the will has not been there on the Republican side, and that's been the challenge because right now what we're trying to do is to pass this legislation with no Republican votes because they've been unwilling to support the provisions in the Build Back Better now. They may be willing to support individual segments of the legislation, and so that's what we've got to explore as well.

Ganley: Like lots of other states, you know, New Hampshire is in the middle of a serious rise in COVID 19 cases. Hospitals are under intense strain. The Biden administration is dedicating some $137 million towards at-home test production. Is that enough in your opinion? And what else do you think would be necessary to mitigate this surge?

Sen. Shaheen: Well, first and foremost, we need to encourage everybody to get vaccinated. The surge is the result of the millions of people who still have not gotten vaccinated, and so we've seen the Omicron variant be able to surge throughout the country. What we know is that at least today for people who are vaccinated, while they may test positive for COVID, that has not been life-threatening or something that's put them in the hospital. So we've got to redouble our efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated.

The fact that this has become such a partisan ideological issue is really troubling as we think about the health of our neighbors and friends. We do need to have more testing. And I've been calling for that, as have others since the beginning of this pandemic. So we do need to devote dollars to testing just as we have devoted funds to ensuring that people can get vaccinated without undue cost.

We've got to continue to attack this pandemic on all fronts, because until we get this under control, we are not going to see our lives go back to normal. We are not going to see our businesses be able to operate in the same way. We are not going to be able to travel as we all want. So it's really important that we do everything we can to address it.

Ganley: In your opinion, has CDC messaging been on course?

Sen. Shaheen:I think it's been confusing often, and we need to continue to push the CDC to correct that, to clarify their messaging.

Ganley: The 2022 midterms are coming up, and often the party in the White House does not do well during the midterms. What do you think Democrats have to do to break that pattern in next year's elections?

Sen. Shaheen: You know, Rick, I continue, and I know the rest of the delegation continues, to be focused on what we need to do to address the challenges that people are facing every day that New Hampshire, that the country, is facing every day. That means trying to ensure that we get testing and get people vaccinated to respond to the pandemic. It means trying to get the legislation done to ensure that people can get child care, that they need to address the backlog that we have with getting testing, for example, and goods because of the challenges in the supply chain.

So that's what I'm focused on, and I think people will make a decision about the 2022 election based on what's happening in their lives and having a government that has responded to try and make things better for people. We've got to address the rising energy prices and the costs that people are facing, and that's what I'm going to stay focused on.

Ganley: But specifically, what can Democrats do as far as messaging is concerned?

Sen. Shaheen: This is not about messaging. This is about what can we do that's going to make a difference in people's lives. And that's what I continue to stay focused on.

My effort has not been to try and focus on a message. It's been to try and focus on what we can get done and that's what I'm going to continue to do. And I'm going to urge my fellow Democrats and Republicans to do the same thing. We're not there to develop a message. We're there to try and address the problems that face New Hampshire in the country.

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