Obama backs Manchin’s voting rights compromise before crucial Senate vote

Former president calls Democrats’ proposal a ‘product of compromise’ and says the future of the country is at stake

Barack Obama has backed conservative West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin’s voting rights proposal, calling it a “product of compromise” as the landmark legislation struggles towards a crucial vote in the US Senate on Tuesday.

The former US president weighed in, as did his wife and former first lady, Michelle Obama, decrying Republican efforts in many statehouses across the country to bring in new laws that restrict voting, and urging Congress to pass federal legislation “before it’s too late”.

Barack Obama said the future of the country was at stake.

“I have tried to make it a policy not to weigh in on the day-to-day scrum in Washington, but what is happening this week is more than just a particular bill coming up or not coming up to a vote,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News.

He added: “I do want folks who may not be paying close attention to what’s happening ... to understand the stakes involved here, and why this debate is so vitally important to the future of our country,” Obama said.

And the White House said on Monday it views the Senate’s work on an elections bill overhaul and changes being offered by Manchin as a “step forward”, even though the Democrats’ priority legislation is expected to be blocked by a Republican filibuster.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the revisions proposed by Manchin are a compromise, another step as Democrats work to shore up voting access and what Joe Biden sees as “a fight of his presidency”.

“The president’s effort to continue that fight doesn’t stop tomorrow at all,” Psaki said.

The Senate is preparing for a showdown Tuesday, a test vote of the For the People Act, a sweeping elections bill that would be the largest overhaul of US voting procedures in a generation.

A top priority for Democrats seeking to ensure access to the polls and mail-in ballots made popular during the pandemic, it is opposed by Republicans as a federal overreach into state systems.

Manchin has been a vocal Democratic Party holdout on Capitol Hill, opposing the For the People Act and insisting on gleaning bipartisan support for such legislation.

But last week he introduced a list of compromises he would support, including 15 days of early voting and automatic voter registration. His compromise would also ban partisan gerrymandering and require voter ID.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said he opposed the compromise, and hopes are fading in many Democratic quarters that a vote on Tuesday in the Senate will take the legislation to the debate stage, thus leaving it stalled.

In his latest interview, Obama said Democrats and Republicans have abused the redistricting process, but shared concerns about efforts in Republican-controlled states to limit access to voting.

“Around the world we’ve seen once-vibrant democracies go in reverse,” Obama said. “It is happening in other places around the world and these impulses have crept into the United States … we are not immune from some of these efforts to weaken our democracy.”

“If we have the same kinds of shenanigans that brought about January 6, you know – if we have that for a couple more election cycles we’re going to have real problems in terms of our democracy long term.”

In a post on Instagram, Michelle Obama talked of the Biden legislation fighting voter suppression and strengthening democracy.

“Over the past few months, there’s been a movement in state legislatures all across the country to pass laws that make it harder for people to cast a ballot. That means we’ve got to pass the For the People Act before it’s too late. This bill is one of our best chances to ensure all of us have a say in our future – whether that’s issues like pandemic relief, criminal justice, immigration, healthcare, education, or anything else,” she wrote.

Manchin had been the sole holdout. His proposed changes to the bill are being well received by some in his party, and any nod from the White House lends them credibility.

He has suggested adding a national voter ID requirement, which has been popular among Republicans, and dropping other measures from the bill like its proposed public financing of campaigns.

Among voting rights advocates, one key voice, Georgia-based Democrat and activist Stacey Abrams, has said she could support Manchin’s proposal.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, it is clear Democrats in the split 50-50 Senate will be unable to open debate, blocked by a filibuster by Republicans.

In the Senate, it takes 60 votes to overcome the filibuster, and without any Republican support, the Democrats cannot move forward.

“Will the Republicans let us debate it?” said Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer as he opened the chamber on Monday afternoon. “We’re about to find out.”

Contributors

Amanda Holpuch, Sam Levin and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Landmark voting rights bill defeated in Senate despite Democratic unity
For the People Act fails to overcome filibuster as Biden faces pressure to advocate for presidential priority

David Smith in Washington

22, Jun, 2021 @11:17 PM

Article image
Democrats bid to change Senate rules if Republicans thwart voting rights reform
Voting rights reforms have repeatedly stalled in 50-50 Senate, as Schumer says: ‘We hope our Republican colleagues change course and work with us’

David Smith Washington bureau chief

03, Jan, 2022 @6:30 PM

Article image
Biden urges Senate to eliminate filibuster in voting rights pitch: ‘I’m tired of being quiet’ – as it happened
President and vice-president speak in Georgia as Schumer says Senate will act on voting rights ‘as soon as tomorrow’

Maanvi Singh (now) and Joan E Greve (earlier)

12, Jan, 2022 @12:12 AM

Article image
‘A ticking timebomb’: Democrats’ push for voting rights law faces tortuous path
Democrats have yet to convince their entire Senate caucus to back the House-passed For the People Act – let alone beat the filibuster

Sam Levine in New York and Daniel Strauss in Washington

27, May, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Senate Republicans again block sweeping voting rights bill
Party-line vote will significantly increase pressure on Democrats to do away with the filibuster

Sam Levine in New York

20, Oct, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Joe Manchin opposes voting rights bill and defends filibuster in blow to Democrats
Senator key to progress cites Republican opposition as reason for coming out against federal answer to GOP restrictions

Amanda Holpuch in New York

06, Jun, 2021 @5:27 PM

Article image
Top House Democrat Jim Clyburn: 'No way we'd let filibuster deny voting rights'
In an interview with the Guardian, the House majority whip calls for a way around the legislative roadblock

Daniel Strauss in Washington and Sam Levine in New York

07, Mar, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Obama backs Manchin’s voting rights compromise proposal – as it happened
Ex-president urges Republicans to join with Democrats to pass legislation – follow all the day’s politics news

Sam Levin (now) and Amanda Holpuch (earlier)

22, Jun, 2021 @12:09 AM

Article image
Senate aims for healthcare vote next week as Obama condemns repeal effort
Donald Trump says Graham-Cassidy bill has ‘very good chance’ of passing as Mitch McConnell prepares to bring Obamacare repeal measure to floor

Lauren Gambino and Sabrina Siddiqui Washington and Liz Ford in New York

20, Sep, 2017 @6:27 PM

Article image
Schumer insists Senate will vote on voting rights bill ‘win, lose or draw’ – as it happened
Senate majority leader says ‘the eyes of the nation will be watching’ – follow all the latest news

Maanvi Singh (now) and Joan E Greve (earlier)

19, Jan, 2022 @12:27 AM