For 10 months, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) refused to consider alteration of the Senate’s filibuster rule for legislation to protect voting rights. He insists there are 10 reasonable Republicans who can agree on a reform package. Whether he actually believes that or merely seeks to avoid tough votes that would put him at odds with his state’s conservative voters is unknown.

Regardless, his assessment is dead wrong. If that wasn’t already clear, every Republican except Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted on Wednesday to block consideration of legislation reviving Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (both eviscerated by the right-wing Supreme Court).

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund demanded action: “We cannot continue to allow the filibuster, an archaic Senate tradition — one that, historically, has been a favored tool of those who oppose civil rights — to be used to obstruct the advancement of this critical voting rights legislation,” it said in a written statement. “We urge the Senate to take any and all necessary actions to ensure that federal voting rights legislation becomes law before it is too late.” Clearly, Democrats are down to a simple choice: Protect voting, or protect the right to obstruct legislation in the Senate.

The latest Republican ploy to block debate on voting rights reform, the fourth such effort this year, did not surprise Democrats. But it did infuriate them. Citing voting suppression legislation around the country, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday rightly bashed Republicans for “implicitly endorsing these partisan Republican actions to suppress the vote and unravel our democracy.” He recounted Republicans’ intransigence:

We’ve tried for months to get Republicans to agree.
We have lobbied Republicans privately; we have gone through regular order; we have attempted to debate them on the floor.
We have presented reasonable, commonsense proposals in June, August, October, and now in November. Each time, I personally promised my Republican colleagues they would have ample opportunity to voice their concerns, offer germane amendments, and make changes to our proposal.
At no point did we ever ask them to vote for our legislation. … We’ve simply been trying to get our Republicans friends to start debating, just as the Senate was intended to do.
Off the floor, we held public hearings, group discussions with senators, and one-on-one meetings with the other side to try and win some support. Sens. Manchin, Kaine, Tester, King, Durbin, Klobuchar, Leahy, and more have all met with Republicans to initiate a dialogue.
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Schumer did not recite this history for Republicans’ benefit. This argument was aimed squarely at Manchin, who has delayed, deflected and dithered as Republicans have launched a nationwide effort to undermine access to the ballot and, worse, to lay the groundwork to overturn results. (Does anyone doubt that, had the close New Jersey governor’s race taken place in, say, Texas or Florida, a state “stop the steal” movement would have sprung up?)

Schumer also provided Manchin with the rationale for fixing the filibuster. “The gears of the Senate have ossified over the years,” Schumer declared. “The filibuster is used far more today than ever before — by some measures 10 times as much compared to decades past.” The Senate, he argued, cannot sustain its “rightful status as the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Manchin cannot argue with a straight face that Republicans have reasonable objections to his own compromise efforts. Democracy Docket, the heart of the Democratic Party’s voting rights litigation efforts, put it simply:

Equally critical to attempts to secure ballot access — if not more so — is passage of a package of reforms to defend the integrity of elections, preventing a replay of Jan. 6 and Republican efforts to overturn election results that don’t go their way. The need for national standards for post-election activities, including the handling of ballots to prevent future phony election “audits” as seen in Arizona, could not be higher. As former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, former House impeachment counsel Norman Eisen and Jessica Marsden, a counsel at Protect Democracy, write in a Newsweek op-ed:

The anti-election subversion legislation would also impose strong, enforceable federal penalties against those who would use threats and violence to try and stop the evenhanded administration of elections. Most importantly, they would establish a federal prohibition on the politically-motivated removal of election officials, as several proposed and enacted bills purport to allow.
These measures — along with additional common-sense reforms like requiring the use of paper ballots so that there is a verifiable record of the election results — are critical to protecting our elections and voter confidence. And they are popular, garnering overwhelming support from Americans across the political spectrum. . . . This is a critical component of the federal response to efforts to suppress and subvert the vote. It is time for Congress to do something about it.

Anti-election subversion legislation must also plug the holes in the Electoral Count Act, to ensure that a future GOP House majority cannot block a victorious Democratic presidential candidate from taking power.

As soon as their economic package passes, Senate Democrats and the White House must turn up the heat on Manchin, who (with a big assist from Democratic Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema) has bottled up President Biden’s agenda and contributed to the disaster in Virginia. Democrats have every reason to demand that Manchin not multiply the damage already done to his party and, worse, to the sanctity of elections, by continuing his defense of filibuster powers.

The time has arrived for Biden to level with Manchin: If he prevents Democrats from protecting our voting system, the 2022 and 2024 landscape for Democrats will be treacherous — and democracy itself will be imperiled. If they fail to shore up voting in the post-Jan. 6 era, the lion’s share of the blame will fall on Manchin for defending the same tool Southern segregationists deployed to fend off civil rights legislation. At a bare minimum, anti-election subversion legislation must succeed.

Democrats dare not enter the midterms with voting rights reform left undone. That means using every public and private means of persuasion, both carrots and sticks, to cajole Manchin. With Manchin’s utter failure to find 10 pro-democracy Republicans to fortify our democracy, he is in a particularly weak position to argue that the Senate works as it should.

Biden publicly said he would back a change in the filibuster rules if voting rights hang in the balance. That’s exactly where we are now. It’s time for Biden to prove his devotion goes beyond rhetoric.