Black Democrats hammer Manchin for backing filibuster on voting rights

Black House Democrats on Wednesday teed off on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for his refusal to back a change in Senate rules for the sake of strengthening federal voting protections.

Behind President Biden, a growing number of Democrats are pushing for a filibuster carve-out that would allow a pair of voting rights bills to become law — an effort that’s gained steam over the past year as almost 20 Republican-led states have adopted tougher voting restrictions. 

Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus charged that Manchin, by refusing to support that carve-out, is essentially helping Republicans to disenfranchise vulnerable voters — particularly minorities — while threatening to erode decades of civil rights protections in the process.

They are not mincing words.

“We’re sending a clarion call and you can print this: Shame on you for not doing it,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), head of the Black Caucus, referring to any lawmaker standing in the way of the new protections.

Beatty was hardly alone. 

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) revealed a five-page letter she’d sent previously to Manchin, and made clear that she was frustrated with what she said was his subsequent silence.   

“I’ve given him enough time to respond — I will make it public now — and it only suggests if he should have the courage of West Virginia that seceded from Virginia because they did not want to support slavery,” she said. 

It’s not that Manchin is opposed to voting rights legislation. Indeed, while he declined to support a sweeping House-passed bill aimed at empowering voters, he later sponsored his own bipartisan proposal with many of the same protections, including mandatory early voting windows and mail-in balloting options. That bill, along with a separate proposal designed to prevent race-based discrimination at the polls, is sitting in the Senate awaiting a vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week blocked a Democratic effort to allow those bills to move with a simple majority. And Manchin, though not the only Senate Democrat to reject changes to the filibuster that would allow the voting bills to pass, has become the public face of that opposition — and is taking most of the heat from fellow Democrats as a result. 

“We’re calling on a few senators in particular to rise to this moment,” said Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas), a former voting rights lawyer. “Pass your own bill, Sen. Manchin.”

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the most powerful Black lawmaker in Congress, noted that “every member” of the Black Caucus has supported Manchin’s scaled-back bill, despite their preference for stronger legislation.

“And we’re finding some real issues trying to figure out why is it that when we decided to support his bill, he seems to be supporting a filibuster of his own bill,” Clyburn said. 

“That, to us, is very disconcerting.”

Manchin has long opposed efforts to erode the minority party’s filibuster powers, which require the Senate majority to rally 60 votes to pass most bills through the chamber. Manchin says that, without the backing of any Republicans, such a change would be so controversial that any legislation passed using that tactic would risk losing its legitimacy. 

“Voting is very important. It is a bedrock of democracy,” Manchin he told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol. “But to break the opportunity for the minority to participate completely — that’s just not who we are.”

Black lawmakers rejected that argument out of hand, with Clyburn pointing out that the 15th Amendment — which empowered Black people, including former slaves, to vote — passed through the House without no support from the Democrats who, in that era, were the opposing party. 

“That amendment passed on a straight party line. … So we take exception — grave exception — when anybody tells us that legislation cannot have credibility unless it is bipartisan. You’re saying to us that the 15th Amendment is without credibility,” Clyburn said.

“So we ask all of our friends, inside and outside of Congress, to be careful with that,” he added. “That’s not what history teaches us.” 

Biden jumped aggressively into the debate on Tuesday, when he traveled to Georgia to deliver a searing speech in which he took the remarkable step of comparing those opposing stronger voting protections to some of the most notorious racist figures in American history, including George Wallace, Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis.

“Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” said Biden, a 36-year veteran of the chamber. 

How the voting rights debate plays out remains to be seen. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed action on changing Senate rules no later than Jan. 17, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Meanwhile, Black Democrats are busy pressing Manchin for a change of heart.   

Clyburn said he spoke directly with the West Virginia centrist as recently as Wednesday morning, as both lawmakers were paying their respects to the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who was lying in state beneath the Capitol Rotunda. But Clyburn said he was left with little sense whether Manchin might be persuadable.  

“I have no idea,” Clyburn said. “I’m talking. And I’m hoping.”

Tags Chuck Schumer Colin Allred Harry Reid Joe Biden Joe Manchin Joyce Beatty Mitch McConnell Sheila Jackson Lee

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