Manchin Vows to Block Democratic Voting Rights Bill and Preserve Filibuster
WASHINGTON — Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said on Sunday in no uncertain terms that he will not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression and restore ethical controls on the presidency shattered by Donald J. Trump.
In an opinion piece in a West Virginia paper, Mr. Manchin, a Democrat, also reiterated his staunch opposition to ending the Senate’s legislative filibuster, which would seem to end many of President Biden’s most ambitious legislative goals.
The bill, the For the People Act, would roll back dozens of laws being passed by Republican state legislatures to limit early and mail-in voting and empower partisan poll watchers and voting oversight.
The legislation would also force major-party candidates for president and vice president to release 10 years’ worth of personal and business tax returns and end the president’s and vice president’s exemption from executive branch conflict-of-interest rules, which allowed Mr. Trump to maintain businesses that profited off his presidency.
“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. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” Mr. Manchin wrote in The Charleston Gazette-Mail, his home state capital’s newspaper.
Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to end debate and break a filibuster on policy legislation. Republican and Democratic Senates have chipped away at the filibuster, ensuring that most executive branch appointees and judicial nominees can be confirmed with a simple 51-vote majority. A budget rule, called reconciliation, has also been stretched to pass ambitious legislation under the guise of spending and taxation. Major tax cuts pressed by President George W. Bush and Mr. Trump were passed with simple majorities as budget bills, as were parts of the Affordable Care Act and a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill earlier this year.
But bills that are purely policy oriented are still subject to a 60-vote majority in the Senate, and all 48 Democrats and both liberal-leaning independents would have to align to change that rule. Even if they did, all 50 would have to vote for the voting rights and ethics bill, considering that no Republican is expected to back it.
Mr. Manchin said instead that he would support passage of another bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore federal oversight over state-level voting law changes to protect minority groups that might be targeted. He cited one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as a supporter of the measure.
But he is still far short of the 60-vote threshold he backs to pass even that bill.
“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,” Mr. Manchin wrote.
Democratic senators greeted Mr. Manchin’s words incredulously. The senator has made similar points before, but doing it in writing in West Virginia carried new weight.
“His fidelity and allegiance to the people of West Virginia is beyond question,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said on Sunday. “But I hope that he will recognize equally the responsibility that each of us has to the nation, and we face an unprecedented threat to voting rights and democracy.”
Mr. Manchin’s opposition to ending the filibuster and backing strictly Democratic bills could have implications beyond voting rights. He supported the pandemic-relief bill this year, which passed on party lines, but Democratic leaders are considering passing other measures under reconciliation, including an infrastructure bill that will most likely top $1 trillion.
Mr. Manchin declined to say how he would vote on a party-line infrastructure bill, saying that a bipartisan group of senators negotiating a deal that could get at least 60 votes are “not that far apart.”
“I still have all the confidence in the world,” Mr. Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re going to get there. My goodness, the president has gone from $2.25 trillion down to $1 trillion. The Republicans have come up quite a bit from where they started.”
He was firm on the voting rights bill, saying that passing it on a party-line vote would further divide the country, which is seeing state after state pass party-line voting restrictions where Republicans control the legislature and governor’s office.
The Battle Over Voting Rights
Amid months of false claims by former President Donald J. Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states are marching ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and changing how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.
- A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become a central issue in American politics. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning law and justice institute at New York University, counts 361 bills in 47 states that seek to tighten voting rules. At the same time, 843 bills have been introduced with provisions to improve access to voting.
- The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
- More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
- Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would likely face steep legal challenges.
- Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Texas: The next big move could happen here, where Republicans in the legislature are brushing aside objections from corporate titans and moving on a vast election bill that would be among the most severe in the nation. It would impose new restrictions on early voting, ban drive-through voting, threaten election officials with harsher penalties and greatly empower partisan poll watchers.
- Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. Iowa has also imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day. And bills to restrict voting have been moving through the Republican-led Legislature in Michigan.
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