Senate Republicans on Tuesday were poised to block Democrats’ landmark legislation on voting rights later in the day, but West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who had been holding out, announced he would join his colleagues in a show of unity against the GOP move.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Manchin will vote to move forward with debate on the measure in exchange for a promise from Schumer that Manchin’s proposed amendment with major changes would get a vote if debate opened.
Manchin released a statement saying while he does not support the original bill Democrats are pushing, he has “found common ground” on a possible new version.
Earlier, Manchin told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott, “We’ve just got to keep working. That’s what we’re here for.”
Despite Democrats not having the 60 votes necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster on the revised version of the S.1 elections reform bill, Schumer said Monday he’s holding the vote, so even if it fails as expected, it will show Americans that congressional Republicans are actively making it harder for people to vote.
“Donald Trump lied over and over and over again, poisoning our democracy, lighting a fire beneath Republican state legislatures who immediately launched the most sweeping voter suppression effort in at least 80 years,” he said.
The legislation is a sweeping election reform law that seeks to expand voter access to ballots through automatic registration, increased absentee ballots and early voting — hallmarks of the pandemic — as well as broaden campaign finance disclosures, limit partisan gerrymandering and institute federally financed campaigns.
Manchin has called for changes to the legislation, saying he wants to institute a more lenient form of voter ID — something Democrats have opposed in the past, as well as allow for some purging of voter rolls and make Election Day a federal holiday.
Late Tuesday, the White House said Biden met with Manchin to discuss the voting rights legislation. Biden separately met with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who supports the bill but not ending the filibuster in order to pass it. She published an op-ed in the Washington Post following the meeting to reiterate her position.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday the Biden administration’s fight for voting rights is not over — “no matter the outcome.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell countered Schumer Monday by accusing Democrats of trying to stage a takeover of the voting system and said Democrats have changed how they’re trying to justify robust voting reform.
“The arguments here have one big thing in common with the ones our colleagues have deployed against the filibuster: Debunked claims of racism,” McConnell said. “African American turnout was twice as high in Mississippi.”
“At the end of the day which concocted crisis Democrats use as a justification for their top legislative priority doesn’t make much difference. They’ve made it abundantly clear that the real driving force behind S.1 is a desire to rig the rules of American elections permanently in Democrats’ favor,” McConnell, R-Ky., continued.
The Democratic effort comes amid unprecedented action on voting rights and elections at the state level. The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, reported last month that at least 14 states have enacted 22 new laws that restrict access to the vote since the start of the year. Nearly 400 bills have been filed in 48 states.
What are the bill’s key provisions?
It seeks to expand voter access, broaden campaign finance disclosures, limit partisan gerrymandering and institute federally financed campaigns, among other measures Democrats say would bolster ethics in elections.
The House passed a similar bill earlier this year 220-210, with one Democrat joining all voting Republicans to oppose the measure.
In part, the Senate measure would:
What are the GOP arguments against it?
The main Republican argument is that it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to dictate to states how to run elections.
They also have claimed the bill would boost what they call “ballot harvesting” — allowing campaign workers or other third parties to collect sealed ballots. They also say new campaign-finance requirements would suppress First Amendment rights.
Manchin, the only Democrat who didn’t co-sponsor the voting rights bill, recently reiterated his opposition, enraging some Democrats, although he offered a compromise last week. Even though it included voter ID provisions, which most Democrats oppose and Republicans support, the compromise was applauded by Stacey Abrams, a high-profile Democrat on voting rights.
But GOP leader McConnell shot down the offer, using Abrams’ endorsement as another reason Republicans should oppose the bill.
“In reality, the plan endorsed by Stacey Abrams is no compromise,” he said in a statement. “It still subverts the First Amendment to supercharge cancel culture and the left’s name-and-shame campaign model. It takes redistricting away from state legislatures and hands it over to computers. And it still retains S.1’s rotten core: an assault on the fundamental idea that states, not the federal government, should decide how to run their own elections.”
Manchin, who also opposes ending the filibuster which could allow legislation to pass without GOP support, in an op-ed for the Charleston Gazette-Mail earlier this month, argued the current bill was “partisan policymaking.”
“Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants? I have always said, ‘If I can’t go home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ And I cannot explain strictly partisan election reform or blowing up the Senate rules to expedite one party’s agenda,” Manchin wrote.
What is the Biden White House saying?
“I’m going to fight like heck with every tool at my disposal for its passage,” Biden said of the bill earlier this month to kick off what he deemed a “month of action.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that voting rights will be a “fight of his presidency” but played down the prospect of Democrats losing Tuesday’s vote to start debate on one of his stated top priorities.
“The president’s effort to continue that fight doesn’t stop tomorrow at all,” Psaki said in a press briefing Monday. She noted that Biden asked Vice President Kamala Harris last month to lead the administration’s effort on voting legislation, adding to her fast-expanding portfolio.
“There’s work to do in the states. There’s work to do with voting groups. There’s work to do to empower and engage legislatures, and that’s something that will also be part of her effort,” Psaki said.
“If the vote is unsuccessful tomorrow,” she continued, “we suspect it will prompt a new conversation about the path forward, and we’ll see where that goes.”
ABC News’ Allison Pecorin and Trish Turner contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: The original story included a reference to the “disputed 2020 election.” The addition of “disputed” was an editor error meant to refer to the continuing controversy over voting procedures and laws — not the outcome of the election itself. That reference has now been removed.