Manchin Comes Out against H.R. 1., Says Partisan Voting Legislation ‘Will Destroy’ U.S. Democracy

Policy

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaks during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 20, 2021. (Oliver Contreras/Pool via Reuters)

Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) said Sunday that he will vote against Democrats’ “For the People Act” and will also oppose weakening or eliminating the filibuster as he believes partisan voting legislation “will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy.”

Manchin’s comments came in an op-ed he penned for the Charleston Gazette-Mail that was published on Sunday.

Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized,” writes Manchin, who previously served as West Virginia’s secretary of state. “Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.”

He adds that any federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both parties joining together to find a compromise lest lawmakers “risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials”

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Democrats have struggled to garner support from Republicans for their two sweeping voter rights bills: H.R. 1, also known as the “For the People Act,” as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The U.S. House passed the For the People Act in March by ten votes: Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson joined every Republican in voting against it. The legislation would override hundreds of state laws governing elections, federalize control of voting and elections to an unprecedented degree and end two centuries of state power to draw congressional districts.

However, it is unlikely Democrats will be able to find the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation in the Senate. This has led many progressives to argue that the Senate should eliminate the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold to allow Democrats to pass their agenda with a simple majority.

Manchin notes that Democrats have “attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past.”

“As a reminder, just four short years ago, in 2017 when Republicans held control of the White House and Congress, President Donald Trump was publicly urging Senate Republicans to eliminate the filibuster,” he said. “Then, it was Senate Democrats who were proudly defending the filibuster. Thirty-three Senate Democrats penned a letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warning of the perils of eliminating the filibuster.”

Manchin adds that during his time in Washington he has seen that every party in power will always want to “exercise absolute power, absolutely.”

“Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy,” he added. “The Senate, its processes and rules, have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult while still delivering solutions to the issues facing our country and I believe that’s the Senate’s best quality.”

“Yes, this process can be frustrating and slow,” he writes. “It will force compromises that are not always ideal. But consider the alternative. 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 and his colleague Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) have faced backlash from fellow Democrats over their refusal to vote in favor of eliminating the filibuster. Both moderate Democrats hold crucial votes in the Senate for Democrats to reach even a simple majority.

Meanwhile, President Biden said on Tuesday that June “should be a month of action on Capitol Hill” and that while pundits on TV may ask why he has not done more to pass his legislative priorities that it is because he “only has a majority of effectively four votes in the house and a tie in the Senate with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends,” likely referring to Manchin and Sinema.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki attempted to rewrite Biden’s remarks, claiming that the president was only commenting on TV punditry.

“I can tell you that sometimes these conversations can be oversimplified. TV isn’t always made for complex conversations about policymaking,” she said. “What the president was simply conveying was that his threshold, his litmus test is not to see eye-to-eye on every single detail of every issue and he doesn’t with Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin.”

“He believes there’s an opportunity to work together to make progress to find areas of common ground even if you have areas of disagreement,” Psaki said.

However, Republicans have criticized Biden and his party for doing little to work with the GOP to find common ground. Democrats used budget reconciliation earlier this year to pass the president’s COVID-19 response package with a simple majority and without Republican support.

“He knows well having served 36 years in the Senate that sometimes it’s not a straight line to victory or success, sometimes it takes more time and he’s open to many paths forward,” Psaki said. “I don’t think he was intending to convey anything more than a little bit of commentary on TV punditry.” 

She added that Biden’s comments were not conveying a new position on the filibuster, despite a reporter noting that Biden had essentially accused the two moderate Democrats of standing in the way of his agenda.

“His view on the filibuster continues to be that there should be a path forward for Democrats and Republicans to make voting easier, to move forward on progress for the American people. That position hasn’t changed,” she said. 

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