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VP Harris responds to SCOTUS ruling that there is no constitutional right to abortion

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Supreme Court decision eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion has shaken the Democratic Party. Activists are looking for answers on how the White House plans to fight back, and NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid sat down with Vice President Kamala Harris today to talk about all of this. Asma Khalid joins us now. Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there, Juana.

SUMMERS: So activists are calling on the White House to use the full force of the executive branch to protect and defend abortion access. Did you ask the vice president about that?

KHALID: I did, Juana. In fact, that is exactly where I started our conversation.

One of the criticisms that we have been hearing from folks on the left within the Democratic Party is, you know, the White House is telling people to vote more, but why are we not seeing you out at abortion clinics meeting with women?

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Well, I have been at this very table, so I think - but let's talk about it, if we can just back up for a moment, in terms of what this means. And I want to make that point to make an equally important point, which is that we have to stand together in this fight - right? - those of us who understand what's at stake. This is the first time in the history of our country that the United States Supreme Court has taken a constitutional right that was recognized, taken from women the ability to make decisions about their own body, has, in effect, rendered an opinion that suggests that a woman will have to have and carry to term a pregnancy that she doesn't want.

It's an extraordinary thing what has just happened in terms of the significance to the essential principles, the - essential to our nation and its founding, of freedom, of liberty, the right to privacy. It is profound in terms of where it takes us back. You know, we have a 23-year-old daughter who is going to know fewer rights than my 80-something-year-old mother-in-law. That's profound.

KHALID: And you know, Juana, she, like President Biden, say what really needs to happen is that Congress needs to put abortion protection into law.

SUMMERS: But on Capitol Hill, the reality is that Democrats don't have the votes now. Did you press her on how that can happen?

KHALID: I did. And, you know, we went back and forth because I did want to get clarity on how exactly this could happen. She talked about a bill that would have done that that failed to pass the 60-vote threshold in the Senate earlier this year.

HARRIS: We right now have a Senate where there are - It's an even split of Democrats and Republicans, 50/50. I sat in the chair presiding over the United States Senate when the vote came up for the Women's Protection Act. And the votes were not there. Not one Republican voted. Not one Republican voted in favor of passing legislation to protect a woman's right to make decisions over her own body. And so that's where the votes are right now. We have a midterm coming up in 100 and - I think it's, as of today, 133 days, a midterm which could decide the balance of the United States Congress, both on the Senate side and on the House side.

And knowing that we now - the court has acted in the way that it did, we now know the place where the protection is going to happen to reinstate those protections has to be through law, and that's through Congress. So part of what we need to do is we cannot underestimate the significance of the upcoming elections and the need for all people who care about this issue to understand that we have to have a pro-choice Congress to pass this law.

KHALID: So I want to make sure that I can understand what you're saying, though. So you're saying that there wasn't Republican support for this legislation? But then...

HARRIS: There was not. There was literally not.

KHALID: But why not push for overturning the filibuster, in that case, if - knowing that you're not going to have the Republicans?

HARRIS: You still need the votes to overturn the filibuster, and the votes don't exist.

KHALID: Do you individually support that idea, though? Let's say you don't have the votes.

HARRIS: Why are we talking about hypotheticals? The votes don't exist. What I support - let me tell you what I support. I support electing a pro-choice Congress to get the votes to pass the legislation to put into law a protection for women of America to make decisions about their own body without government interference. And so I'm not going to engage in spending time talking about something that actually is not going to happen right now because the votes just don't exist. But what I do know can happen right now - what I do know can happen right now is that over the course of the next 130-something days, we, through the electoral process, have the opportunity, the possibility, dare I say the imperative, of looking at these races. Look at the Senate race in Georgia. Look at the Senate race in North Carolina. Look at the Senate race that's happening soon in Colorado, and understand the levers that we have to move.

KHALID: And, Juana, I will say, I kept pressing her on this issue of the filibuster, which, you know, of course, is the 60-vote threshold needed for most legislation.

I do want to make sure that I understand clearly, though, what it means to say Roe is on the ballot this November because if it's not a practical thing to talk about eliminating, you know, blowing up the filibuster right now, then is it that you need 10 more...

HARRIS: Well, we just don't have the - but it's not - it's not that it's not - listen, that is a legitimate conversation - OK? - about the filibuster. So that's not what I mean to suggest.

KHALID: OK.

HARRIS: What I am saying, however, is that given the current composition of the United States Senate, it's not going to happen.

SUMMERS: Asma, you've covered her for some time now. What struck you from this interview?

KHALID: My takeaway, Juana, is that even if Democrats want to change the current filibuster rules to make abortion legal through Congress, they need more Democrats to do that. And so that is why they are putting all their efforts into the midterms.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Asma Khalid. You can hear more of her interview with the vice president on the NPR Politics Podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVIN LUKE'S "IN THIS MOMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.