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Lawmakers in Congress take on same-sex marriage and a potential rail strike

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Congress is deep into its lame-duck session, a chance for lawmakers to finish business from earlier in the year.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Senate tried to do that last evening by passing a bill to protect some same-sex marriage rights. The House had already passed a somewhat different version of the bill. Same-sex marriage has been legal across this country under a Supreme Court ruling from years ago, but lawmakers acted out of concern that the court's conservative majority could someday revisit that issue.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo joins us now. So let's start with what happened last night. Democrats have been trying to pass a bill to protect marriage equality for some time, and the vote in the Senate was 61-36. So what changes will the House see when the bill comes back to them?

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: The bill does one big thing. It federally recognizes same-sex and interracial marriages. By doing so, it allows these couples to qualify for federal benefits like Social Security and Medicare. It also requires that all states recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed in other states. What the bill doesn't do is force states to perform same-sex marriages. What passed also allows for nonprofit religious organizations to refuse their services for ceremonies. Here's GOP Senator Susan Collins following the vote.

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SUSAN COLLINS: I really salute my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle who stepped forward despite a lot of pressure, despite a lot of criticism and cast what I believe will be a vote that they'll look back on with great pride.

BUSTILLO: The measure is expected to pass the House in the coming days and be signed by the president.

MARTÍNEZ: Now on Monday, Ximena, you reported that the president asked Congress for a bill to prevent a railroad strike. Why did he have to ask them?

BUSTILLO: Sure. The Biden administration has been arguing for weeks that railroad unions and management should come to their own agreement without Congress intervention. But he changed course this week, asking Congress to pass a bill that would force unions to accept the agreement negotiated by unions and management and the administration. The Railway Labor Act allows the government to do this. Ahead of holiday travel, the shipping season, the administration is worried about what a strike could do to the recovering economy and feel like there's no other way to resolve the issue at the bargaining table.

Railroads are responsible for the transportation of 30 to 40% of goods, not counting commuter rails. And there's concern over the transportation of fertilizer, food and other chemicals essential to the economy and everyday life of millions. And the administration's warning that hundreds of thousands of workers could lose their jobs if there's a strike. So despite touting his ability to be pro-labor, Biden is swallowing a tough pill, asking Congress to make the strike illegal and force the agreement on the workers in order to save the economy.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what are lawmakers saying about this?

BUSTILLO: Well, last night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House today will take up one bill to force the agreement and a second to vote to add seven days of paid sick leave for workers. Many of the workers who voted down the agreement have done so because it doesn't address sick leave policies. This is an effort to ease some concerns from members, especially on the Senate side. GOP Senator Marco Rubio already said he won't support a measure not supported by workers, and John Thune said the administration should handle it, not Congress. And some of - on the left also want to see a bill that addresses the sick leave for workers. And some members, like Senator Bernie Sanders and Colorado's John Hickenlooper, have said that they won't support a bill that doesn't include this. But it's possible that only one bill makes it all the way to the president.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Ximena Bustillo. Thanks a lot.

BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.