Joe Manchin opposes voting rights bill and defends filibuster in blow to Democrats

In a huge blow to Democrats’ hopes of passing sweeping voting rights protections, the West Virginia senator Joe Manchin said on Sunday he would not support his party’s flagship bill – because of Republican opposition to it.

The West Virginia senator is considered a key vote to pass the For the People Act, which would ensure automatic and same-day registration, place limits on gerrymandering and restore voting rights for felons.

Many Democrats see the bill as essential to counter efforts by Republicans in state government to restrict access to the ballot and to make it more easy to overturn election results.

It would also present voters with a forceful answer to Donald Trump’s continued lies about electoral fraud, which the former president rehearsed in a speech in North Carolina on Saturday.

In a column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin said: “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.”

Manchin’s opposition to the bill also known as HR1 could prove crucial in the evenly split Senate. His argument against the legislation focused on Republican opposition to the bill and did not specify any issues with its contents.

Manchin instead endorsed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a measure named for the late Georgia Democratic congressman and campaigner which would reauthorize voting protections established in the civil rights era but eliminated by the supreme court in 2013.

Manchin also reiterated his support for the filibuster, which gives 41 of 100 senators the ability to block action by the majority.

Democrats are seeking to abolish the filibuster, arguing that Republicans have repeatedly abused it to support minority positions on issues like gun control and, just last month, to block the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the attack on the US Capitol.

Republicans have used the filibuster roughly twice as often as Democrats to prevent the other party from passing legislation, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.

“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it,’” Manchin wrote. “And I cannot explain strictly partisan election reform or blowing up the Senate rules to expedite one party’s agenda.”

In a sign of growing frustration within Manchin’s own party, Mondaire Jones, a progressive congressman from New York, tweeted that his op-ed “might as well be titled, ‘Why I’ll vote to preserve Jim Crow.’”

Jim Crow was the name given to the system of legalised segregation which dominated southern states between the end of the civil war in 1865 and the civil rights era of the 1960s.

On the Sunday talk shows, hosts pressed Manchin on whether his expectations of a bipartisan solution on voting rights were realistic in such a divided Congress, and with a Republican party firmly in thrall to Donald Trump.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace told him that if he were to threaten to vote against the filibuster, it could incentivize Republicans to negotiate on legislation.

“Haven’t you empowered Republicans to be obstructionists?” Wallace asked.

“I don’t think so,” Manchin said. “Because we have seven brave Republicans that continue to vote for what they know is right and the facts as they see them, not worrying about the political consequences.”

Seven Republican defections from the pro-Trump party line is not enough to beat the filibuster, even if all 50 Democrats remain united. Manchin said he was hopeful other Republicans would “rise to the occasion”.

Wallace asked if he was being “naive”, noting that the Republican Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said in May: “One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”

“I’m not being naive,” Manchin said. “I think he’s 100% wrong in trying to block all the good things that we’re trying to do for America. It would be a lot better if we had participation and we’re getting participation.”

With the Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, Manchin has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in Washington, by virtue of his centrist views in a Senate split on starkly partisan lines. In Tulsa this week, in a remark that risked angering Manchin, Biden said the two senators “vote more with my Republican friends”, though their voting record does not actually reflect this.

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host John Dickerson asked Manchin if his bipartisan ideals were outdated.

Dickerson noted that since the 2020 election put Democrats in control of Washington, Republicans in the states have introduced more than 300 bills featuring voting restrictions. Furthermore, Republicans who embraced baseless claims about the election being stolen are now running to be chief elections officials in several states.

Dickerson asked: “Why would Republicans, when they’re making all these gains in the statehouses and achieving their goals in the states, why would they vote for a bill someday in the Senate that’s going to take away all the things they’re achieving right now in those statehouses?”

Manchin said those state-level successes could ultimately damage Republicans.

“The bottom line is the fundamental purpose of our democracy is the freedom of our elections,” Manchin said. “If we can’t come to an agreement on that, God help us.”


Amanda Holpuch in New York

The GuardianTramp

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