With negotiations appearing to stall on the Build Back Better Act, the White House and congressional Democrats have shifted their focus to voting legislation, a move principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended on Thursday.
"There is nothing more urgent, nothing more urgent than passing voting rights and getting that done," Jean-Pierre said. "Anyone who knows [President Joe Biden] has followed his career on voting rights, knows this belief is core to who he is."
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The remarks came in response to a question about the pivot away from Build Back Better and toward the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and Freedom to Vote Act, both of which previously stalled in Congress.
"Yesterday, Biden was asked a question in Kentucky, and he said that if we can get voting rights done, we should do it. If we can't, we've got to keep going. There's nothing domestically more important than voting rights," the reporter asked. "Was he speaking generally about voting rights in the sense that if we can get it done, we should do it? Or was he trying to say that Build Back Better should now take a back seat?"
Biden met with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who has questioned several aspects of the president's agenda, earlier in the week to discuss the bill. The new focus underscores dimming prospects of passing Biden's signature bill by Christmas.
Earlier Thursday, the president and vice president met with a group of senators to discuss voting legislation. Jean-Pierre sidestepped a question about the meeting's origins.
The voting rights measures were crafted in response to red-state vote integrity laws passed in the wake of the 2020 election, which Democrats have framed as discriminatory and restrictive.
Republicans argue the proposals would hurt voter integrity, result in a federal takeover of local elections, and are written to favor Democratic victories.
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"Protecting the cornerstone of our democracy should not be a partisan issue, but sadly, what we’re seeing is that it has been the case," Jean-Pierre said. "In the past, voting rights has been a bipartisan issue, so my questions to Republicans are, 'How has this changed? Why has that changed?'"