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Manchin unmoved after 'constructive' meeting with civil rights groups

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy the Democrats need Joe Manchin Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives MORE (D-W.Va.) said on Tuesday that he had a "constructive" meeting with a group of civil rights leaders but that he was unmoved on his opposition to a sweeping bill to overhaul federal elections.

"There was nothing basically for-or-against. ... Basically everyone's position was discussed," Manchin told reporters after the meeting.

Asked if the meeting changed his position on S.1, known as the For the People Act, he added: "No, I don't think anybody changed positions on that."

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Manchin met with NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, as well as National Urban League President Marc Morial, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Lawyers’ Committee President Damon Hewitt, National Council of Negro Women President Johnnetta Cole, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights interim President and CEO Wade Henderson and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President Melanie Campbell. 

Manchin described the meeting as a listening session where everyone described their position, telling reporters that it was a "very, very good meeting"

"I'm very honored that we all got the chance to speak, listen to each other. That's really what it's about. We learned and listened," he said.

"We had a constructive conversation. I think everybody pretty much knows the importance of what we're doing. And I think I'm very much concerned about our democracy, protecting people's voting rights," Manchin added.

The NAACP announced last week that Johnson and other civil rights leaders would sit down with Manchin to discuss voting rights legislation. Advocates are trying to increase pressure on congressional Democrats to pass election and voting legislation as Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country have debated and passed laws that place new limits on access to the ballot.

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“The goal of the meeting was to build and establish a relationship, and we met that goal,” Johnson told The Hill after the meeting, describing all involved parties as being committed to moving the discussion forward in the hope of finding “a solution to protect our Constitution and protect the rights of voters.”

The meeting comes days after Manchin doubled down on his opposition to the For the People Act, a sweeping bill to revamp federal elections. In addition to trying to expand access to voting, the bill also changes the number of commissioners on the Federal Election Commission and would revamp redistricting.

Manchin is the only Senate Democrat who hasn't signed on as a co-sponsor and he's dug in against it, arguing that it's too broad and can't pick up GOP support.

But Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives MORE (D-N.Y.) is vowing to move forward with a planned vote on the bill later this month. Manchin declined to say on Tuesday if he would support bringing up the bill for a debate. If he did that would give Democrats a symbolic victory of being able to put up 50 votes, even though it will fall short of the 60 votes needed to advance given GOP opposition.

Manchin is instead urging his party to focus on a bill, named after the late Rep. John LewisJohn LewisGarland vows fight against voting limits that violate law Black Republican advocates his case for CBC membership Manchin insists he supports voting rights — we'll see MORE (D-Ga.), to strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act after its preclearance formula was gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

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Johnson noted that Manchin “expressed his support” for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act during the meeting, something that civil rights leaders were “encouraged” by.

But top Democrats have warned that while they want to pass the voting bill, they don't believe it's sufficient to replace the much broader For the People Act.

"H.R. 4 must be passed," House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVaccinated lawmakers no longer required to wear masks on House floor Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Pelosi signals no further action against Omar MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter on Wednesday, referring to the Lewis bill, "but it will not be ready until the fall, and it is not a substitute for H.R. 1."

Marty Johnson contributed. Updated at 11:28 a.m.