Obviously this has failed: Manchin won’t listen to liberals on this matter.
But what if Manchin considered listening to Republicans about it?
On Wednesday, all 50 Republicans in the Senate — including supposed moderates such as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — voted to filibuster the Freedom to Vote Act. That’s a stripped-down version of sweeping voting rights legislation Democrats have advocated.
If Manchin (or anyone else) needed more proof that Republicans will never partner with Democrats to secure voting rights and democracy, this was it.
The Freedom to Vote Act was, for all intents and purposes, Manchin’s own bill. He demanded the changes that made it less ambitious than the For the People Act championed by progressives.
It was redesigned to his specifications. So instead of requiring nonpartisan redistricting commissions, it allows states to determine the mode of redistricting while establishing standards of fairness that would be enforced by courts. It also creates national standards for early voting and mail voting, but also allows voter ID requirements, albeit with some protections.
No Republican voted for this.
Manchin is committed to voting rights legislation. He’s also committed to the idea that it must be bipartisan. What will Manchin do with what Republicans themselves have told him about the prospects for said bipartisanship?
Manchin has a way forward here that does not entail listening to liberals. Instead, it entails listening to a pair of moderates. One is an independent, and the other is a Democrat from a state nearly as red as Manchin’s.
It has mostly escaped notice, but these two senators — Angus King of Maine and Jon Tester of Montana — have moved a substantial distance toward filibuster reform. And voting rights — combined with the relentless Republican refusal to support new protections, even as Republicans in states pass voting restrictions everywhere — made them do it.
King will tell anyone who listens how important it is that the parties come together to solve problems. He has long warned that eliminating the filibuster would be a dangerous move.
But King is now open to filibuster reform — for the sake of protecting democracy. “I’ve concluded that democracy itself is more important than any Senate rule,” he now says. He favors some kind of rules change that would allow voting rights legislation to pass by simple majority.
Tester, meanwhile, comes from a deep-red state. He has defended the filibuster in the past. But after the Freedom to Vote Act fell to a GOP filibuster, he told reporters he was reconsidering a change to the rules. As Tester framed the choice: “In the end, it is going to come down to getting Republicans or restoring order.”
Importantly, neither Democrat has much to gain politically from voting rights legislation. It has become a polarized issue that is associated (unfairly) with the party’s liberal wing, which means they risk blowback from Republicans whose votes they need to be reelected.
What’s more, this isn’t like an infrastructure bill allowing them to shower goodies on constituents. They take the position they do because they believe the right to vote is fundamental — and because the filibuster has become an affront to majority rule in a way that, perversely, is allowing Republicans to continue entrenching minority rule.
Indeed, despite being from a deep-red state, Tester alludes to this. He points out that he would prefer a bipartisan solution, but that Republicans are already acting on voting rights — acting against voting rights, that is — and are doing so on a partisan basis themselves. He points out that the American people want the Senate to work, and want their rights protected.
Manchin surely agrees with much of this. He agrees that a working Senate requires good-faith bipartisanship, which Republicans have not shown. He agrees the Senate should function, and that voting rights must be protected. Yet Republicans are not allowing the Senate to function — in a way that enables their state-level counterparts to continue shredding those rights.
As early as next week, Democrats will hold a vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore preclearance protections for voting rules that the Supreme Court has repeatedly gutted. Republicans will filibuster that, too.
Here is the bottom line: Manchin wants fortified protections for democracy, yet he says protecting democracy must be bipartisan by definition. Yet Republicans have made their statement: No bipartisan support for protecting democracy will ever be forthcoming.
The question Manchin must answer — definitively, at some point — is whether this means it can never happen at all.
We don’t hold out much hope that this will move Manchin. But there is a way for him to move. It would be consistent with his own principles, and consistent with his own good-faith approach over the course of months.
All he has to do is listen to what Republicans are telling him.