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Politics

Thousands To Gather In Washington And Cities Nationwide For Voting Rights

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

On this day in 1963, hundreds of thousands of people converged in the nation's capital for the March on Washington. Activists hope to recreate some of that energy today with events in Washington, D.C.. and elsewhere across the country to push for action on voting rights. NPR political correspondent Juana Summers is out among thousands of marchers now in the nation's capital. Juana, thanks for being with us.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: A number of events are planned today centered around voting rights. Tell us what's happening, please.

SUMMERS: That's right, Scott. There are multiple rallies happening here in Washington but also in places like Atlanta, Phoenix and Miami. Here in Washington, we are in downtown D.C., where marchers have just left McPherson Square. They're headed on a route that will take them through parts of the city before converging on the National Mall. I've been speaking with advocates and protesters all morning. And they tell us that they want federal legislation to protect ballot access. They say they are particularly concerned about a wave of laws coming from Republican-led state legislatures that they say are making it more difficult to vote, particularly for people of color and young people.

SIMON: Democrats feel a real sense of urgency around this issue. And the House, of course, this week voted in favor of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act but only with Democratic votes. Where does the push for voting rights legislation stand in Congress now?

SUMMERS: Sure. On Capitol Hill, Democrats are pushing kind of a two-pronged legislative approach. As you mentioned, there is that bill named for the former Congressman Lewis that passed in the House earlier this week. That bill focused on restoring the power of the Voting Rights Act, which had been weakened by several Supreme Court rulings over the last decade. The second bill is far broader. It's known as the For the People Act. That is a sweeping elections and voting bill that would set new standards, making it easier to vote, end partisan gerrymandering and increase transparency in campaign finance. Now, supporters tell me that both of these bills are imperative. They've got to pass. But here's the thing. Both bills also face strong opposition from Republicans. And an even divided Senate - that means it's tough to pass them with the filibuster still intact. That being said, Democrats plan to take these bills on the cause of voting rights when lawmakers come back to Washington in September.

SIMON: The marchers in D.C. will be walking, essentially, past the White House later today. What do they want to say to the president? Where is he in all this?

SUMMERS: Well, they tell me that they want to see the president do more to get more involved in this fight. President Biden has said repeatedly that he believes the fight against restrictive voting laws is the most significant test of our time. He made that clear again this week. But these protesters are putting him under increasing pressure. They want to see him, push key lawmakers to support changing Senate rules to get these bills passed. So far, we don't know if we will hear from anyone from the administration at these marches, though a number of members of Congress are among the speakers at these events today.

SIMON: NPR's Juana Summers at today's voting rights march in Washington, D.C. Juana, thanks so much for being with us.

SUMMERS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.