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Harris lays out voting rights strategy as she meets with Texas lawmakers

By Jasmine Wright and Jason Hoffman, CNN

Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday that all American citizens should have the unequivocal right to vote during a high-profile meeting with nearly two dozen Democratic Texas state legislators who succeeded in killing a Republican election overhaul bill last month.

Harris criticized Senate Bill 7, and similar ones successfully enacted across the country, as attempts to interfere with the right to vote.

“When we look at what has happened in Texas, we look at what’s happening around the country, I think it’s important to remember, we talk about the right to vote, and the right to vote is a given. All citizens have the right to vote, constitutionally. It is their right,” Harris said from the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

“We know we have a great challenge in front of us, and therefore a fight, which is the fight for every Americans’ right, meaningful right, to vote,” she added.

Wednesday’s event comes after Harris began leading the Biden administration’s effort to bolster voting rights across the nation.

Senior administration officials say she will work to build coalitions of Americans concerned about the right to vote, educate Americans on the perils of state legislatures passing more restrictive voting laws and collaborate with Congress.

“The vice president is going to continue to engage the American people and leaders everywhere. This strategy, like our democracy, is strongest when everyone participates,” a senior official said during a background call held with reporters Wednesday.

The brief clarification of Harris’ strategy came before she met with the 16 lawmakers.

This meeting, a senior official said, is an example of the coalition building the vice president seeks to continue in the future. Harris is using her convening power to “bring Americans, concerned about the right and the ability to vote, voting rights activists and organizations at the state, local, national levels as well as policymakers, community leaders and the private sector together in favor in support and advocacy of voting rights,” the official said.

The group of Texas lawmakers is in Washington, DC, to apply pressure on lawmakers to pass the For the People Act, a comprehensive federal voting rights bill that would counteract a number of voting restrictions put in place by Republicans at the state level. The House passed the bill earlier this year.

But it is unlikely to pass the Senate when Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brings it up for a vote since Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia and key vote in the slim Democratic majority, has said he would vote against it.

Senior administration officials would not detail whether the vice president has reached out to Manchin since she took over the Biden administration’s efforts on voting rights at the beginning of June. They said Harris has made calls to Capitol Hill, along with other officials at the White House including the Domestic Policy Council. They also would not say whether the White House would support another option if the For the People Act and the narrower John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act fail to pass.

“We’re fully supportive of the work and the policies that Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and Leader Schumer are prioritizing,” a senior administration official said. “We’re going to continue to take their lead, but you know we’re right there with them.”

Senior officials said Harris will work closely with Pelosi and Schumer but did not give details about what that collaboration between the leaders and rank and file members will look like.

“The vice president sees her role as being collaborative with leaders,” a senior official said. “When she speaks out in public about it, it’s speaking to everyone as well. I think that you don’t necessarily always have to have called the senators to be speaking to them, right?”

The senior administration officials argued Harris’ repeated public calls to pass the legislation are “one of the ways in which she’s communicating to the bodies as well.”

As a senator, Harris co-sponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act, now known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the For the People Act, along with introducing other voter-centric legislation. Aides see her work today leading the administration’s efforts as a continuation of her longtime work on voting rights.

Biden signed an executive order in March that tasks federal agencies to consider ways to expand Americans’ “opportunities to register to vote.”

On Monday, Harris met with advocates in Greenville, South Carolina. One of the attendees, Elias Valentin II, who led a voter protection effort during the 2020 election and is current chair of the local Democratic party, said Harris didn’t outline what her role would be but instead sought to listen to advocates during the meeting.

“The VP was trying to figure out what messages can they take that’s working here and extrapolate to the larger United States,” Valentin told CNN. Valentin said he emphasized to Harris the need for the federal government to step up their voter education to convince more Americans to participate in their local elections and to increase funding for municipalities to expand election staff and decrease the wait times, among other issues.

“She asked, ‘Where were those funding sources that we should be pushing to these local municipalities?'” Valentin said, as one example of the back and forth during the meeting.

A senior administration official said Harris’ Friday trip to Atlanta as a part of a vaccine push will also feature an event focused on voting rights.

CNN’s Dianne Gallagher and Wesley Bruer contributed to this report.

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