Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin

Democrats are scrambling to lock down Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) ahead of a Tuesday vote on one of the party’s top priorities: a sweeping election reform bill. 

Democrats want to be able to put up 50 votes to advance the bill, which would fall short of overcoming a 60-vote legislative filibuster but allow them to put a spotlight on Republican opposition. 

Manchin voting against even starting debate on the bill would be a big setback for Democratic unity, and leadership was locked in down-to-the-wire talks with him throughout the weekend to try to get him to yes.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said as of late Monday afternoon he was in the dark about how Manchin would ultimately come down. 

“I’m hoping he’s going to move forward,” Durbin said, adding, “I just don’t know yet.”

Manchin, the most conservative member of the Senate Democratic Conference, is the lone formal holdout on the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that in addition to setting national voting standards would change the composition of the Federal Election Commission, add new restrictions on congressional redistricting, overhaul campaign finance, and include new ethics rules for the president and vice president. 

Democrats have launched a weeks-long, behind-the-scenes frenzy to try to figure out how to win over Manchin, including one-on-one talks. After frustration from progressives, including some of his own colleagues, Manchin detailed what he can and can’t support at length during a closed-door lunch late last week and in a separate list circulated amongst his colleagues. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who invited Manchin to speak during last week’s caucus meeting, indicated on Sunday that they were still working toward an agreement with the centrist senator. 

“As we speak, we are working to come up with an agreement to compromise with Joe Manchin,” Schumer told reporters in New York. 

Getting Manchin to a “yes” would be a win for Schumer, who has faced weeks of headlines about Democratic divisions on the For the People Act, the legislative filibuster and, more broadly, how to advance key pieces of Biden’s agenda such as a sweeping infrastructure bill. 

It would also defang a key GOP talking point after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seized on Manchin’s opposition to the For the People Act, with his office blasting out a note to reporters titled “Dems Remain Divided On S.1, While Republicans Are Uniformly Opposed.” 

Manchin, returning to Washington on Monday evening, said they didn’t yet have a deal but appeared hopeful they could get there. 

“We all want something to happen, something good to happen,” Manchin said.

But Manchin added that they still needed an agreement that there would be a “substitute” that would incorporate his ideas. 

“We’re working on that,” he said. 

Manchin has outlined roughly two dozen ideas that garnered his approval, including making election day a public holiday, mandating at least 15 consecutive days for early voting in federal elections, banning gerrymandering and providing automatic voter registration.

Manchin is also ready to back tighter campaign finance requirements than those in the For the People Act, including requiring online and digital ads to disclose their sources, similar to rules for TV and radio ads.

But he’s also recommending the jettisoning of one of the more controversial parts of the For the People Act: public financing of campaigns.

And while Manchin supports absentee voting, he doesn’t go so far to endorse no-excuse absentee voting. In another move likely to rankle some Democrats, Manchin is proposing voter ID requirements with the possibility of alternatives such as utility bills to provide proof of identity in order to vote. 

But Democrats, eager to have Manchin at the table, are signaling that they are open to agreeing to some of his concessions as long as they could work out the details on how they would impact individual states.

“I want to thank him for his determined efforts to find a compromise on the bill that’s coming before us. Sen. Manchin spoke to everyone in sight — Republicans, Democrats, Independents, liberals, conservatives — and he listened. The compromise he proposed is not inclusive of everything I’d like to see in the bill, but the reality is that it would be an improvement,” Durbin said. 

The White House also signaled on Monday that it is open to Manchin’s compromise as a potential pathway to Democratic unity on how to address voting rights. 

“We don’t expect there to be a magical 10 votes, but just two weeks ago, there were questions about whether Democrats would be aligned. We certainly hope that will be the case tomorrow,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing.

Getting Manchin on board wouldn’t end Democrats’ headaches on voting rights. If they are able to unite all 50 of their members, it will only fuel calls to nix the 60-vote legislative filibuster, something Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) oppose and several others are viewed as wary of doing. 

Progressive groups are already ramping up their pressure over the filibuster in anticipation of Tuesday’s vote.

“If a minority of senators abuse the filibuster to prevent the Senate from even debating critical voting rights legislation, then the path forward for Senate Democrats becomes crystal clear: Democrats must move quickly to eliminate the filibuster and pass popular voting rights legislation supported by a majority of senators,” Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Fix Our Senate, said in a statement.

Democrats have long viewed bringing bills to the floor that get all 50 members of their caucus as the next stage of the filibuster fight. That would force Republicans to go on the record and, they hope, show their own filibuster holdouts what can’t pass without changing the chamber’s rules.

But Schumer, who hasn’t taken a hard position on the filibuster, made it clear he wants to keep the rhetorical fire focused on Republicans, aiming to squeeze GOP senators as GOP-led state legislatures debate and in some cases pass tighter voting rules and former President Trump doubles down on his false claim that the election was “stolen.” 

“The vote tomorrow … it’s called the motion to proceed. How we get bills on the floor of the Senate. It needs 60 votes to be able to be debated. Will our Republicans let us debate?” Schumer asked. “We’re about to find out how my Republican colleagues will answer that question.” 

Tags Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Donald Trump Filibuster Jen Psaki Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell voting rights

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