Ding, dong, H.R. 1 is dead. (Probably.)
In a commentary piece published Sunday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin announced he was coming out against the so-called “voting rights” legislation being pushed by Democrats, arguing the bill’s failure to attract any Republican support undermined faith in the electoral system.
While some Democrats had argued for eliminating the filibuster to pass the bill in the Senate, claiming they should set a precedent that civil rights legislation wouldn’t be subject to the 60-vote supermajority requirement, Manchin’s announcement dramatically reduces the possibility of passing the bill that way in a Senate evenly divided at 50-50.
“The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics. Least of all, protecting this right, which is a value I share, should never be done in a partisan manner,” Manchin wrote.
“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For The People Act.”
In the piece, Manchin argued that he’d vigorously supported the right to vote during his time as West Virginia’s secretary of state. (Manchin was also the Mountain State’s governor before being elected to the Senate after the death of Sen. Robert Byrd.)
“Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized. Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage,” he wrote.
“Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.”
The For the People Act passed the House of Representatives by a 220 to 210 vote along party lines in March, according to Blomberg. The bill would outlaw voter ID legislation, require states to offer mail-in voting and ballot harvesting, create independent commissions to draw congressional districts, require same-day voter registration and allow for 15 days of early voting.
The bill attracted no Republican support in the Senate, either, particularly because it would invalidate election integrity legislation enacted in many Republican-led states in the wake of the 2020 election. That frustration led to House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, to float the idea of getting rid of the filibuster for certain types of legislation.
“There’s no way under the sun that in 2021 that we are going to allow the filibuster to be used to deny voting rights. That just ain’t gonna happen. That would be catastrophic,” Clyburn told The Guardian in an interview after the bill passed the House.
“I’m not going to say that you must get rid of the filibuster. I would say you would do well to develop a Manchin-Sinema rule on getting around the filibuster as it relates to race and civil rights,” he added.
The thinking behind that is that the two Democratic senators still publicly intent on preserving the filibuster — Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — would make an exception for bills like H.R. 1.
As both sides dug in, this seemed to be the one realistic for getting H.R. 1 passed. Last week, President Joe Biden delegated the task of shepherding the legislation through the Senate to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Today, Texas legislators advanced a bill attacking the right to vote. It’s yet another assault on our democracy. Congress needs to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
We need to make it easier for eligible voters to vote. Not harder.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) May 30, 2021
That assignment may be short-lived, however, considering there exists no realistic path to the For the People Act making it through the upper chamber without all 50 Democratic votes — and, as Sunday morning, those votes aren’t there.
While The Hill noted in March that Manchin had indicated he was leaning against voting for the sweeping federalization of elections in April, the senator’s column Sunday made it official — and excoriated Democrats willing to make such sweeping changes to how elections are conducted in America (all in their favor, naturally) without a bit of Republican support.
Instead, Manchin floated the possibility of working with the GOP on passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a somewhat more bipartisan-friendly update of the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
“The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would update the formula states and localities must use to ensure proposed voting laws do not restrict the rights of any particular group or population. My Republican colleague, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has joined me in urging Senate leadership to update and pass this bill through regular order,” he wrote.
“I continue to engage with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about the value of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and I am encouraged by the desire from both sides to transcend partisan politics and strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights.”
That’s not what Democrats want, however — and while Manchin remains the most conservative-leaning member of the Senate Democratic conference, this is still a strong rebuke, particularly coming days after the White House has assigned Harris to get Democratic ducks in a row on voting rights.
As for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, there’s still the matter of getting 60 votes so that it sees the floor. If that doesn’t happen, another takeaway from Manchin’s Sunday piece is that you shouldn’t expect him to sign on to some kind of a Clyburn plan wherein bills that can be shoved into a box involving civil rights or race:
“Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” Manchin wrote.
It’s impossible to say the unconstitutional and cynical For the People Act is well and truly dead for the present moment, but the avenues for its passage without Manchin supporting either a) the bill or b) filibuster alterations of any sort are difficult to imagine.
Whatever the case, the West Virginia senator’s decision means you can score one for proponents of election integrity.
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