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Democrats craft revised voting rights bill, seeking to keep hopes alive in the Senate

Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) speaks after a Democratic lunch in the Capitol on June 22 in Washington. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Senate Democrats are preparing to release a revised voting rights bill as soon as this week, hoping to keep the legislation alive a month after Republicans blocked the consideration of a previous, more sweeping proposal.

Several key senators huddled inside Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s office on Wednesday to hash out the details of the bill, which is expected to at least partially incorporate a framework assembled by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who expressed qualms about the previous bill, known as the For the People Act.

They emerged saying a new product could be released in a matter of days.

“It’s important that the American people understand that this is very much on our radar, and we understand the urgency, and we’re committed to getting some progress,” said Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), who said he asked Schumer (D-N.Y.) to call the meeting.

The talks come at a delicate time for the Senate, with lawmakers of both parties eager to move forward with a bipartisan infrastructure deal and Democrats eyeing a separate economic package that could total $3 trillion or more.

Democrats take their push for voting rights legislation to Georgia

Schumer has pledged to make progress on both of those bills before the Senate leaves for its summer recess next month. But he is also facing pressure inside his caucus to maintain momentum on the voting rights issue, particularly on overriding state laws that have rolled back voting access in several Republican states, including Georgia.

Activists have continued to push for federal intervention in the face of Republican efforts to restrict voting based on former president Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. Among those calling for action are Texas state legislators who fled Austin to temporarily foil a GOP push for elections legislation there and came to Washington to make their case directly to Congress.

Democrats’ attempt to advance the For the People Act failed last month on a party-line 50-50 vote, falling short of the 60 votes necessary. The base legislation included an array of Democratic campaign finance, ethics and election revisions, including mandated nonpartisan House redistricting and a public financing system for congressional campaigns.

Manchin resisted some of the more far-reaching provisions in the bill and, before voting with other Democrats to start debate on the bill, released a three-page framework that scaled back some aspects of the legislation and floated some of his ideas, including a national voter ID mandate that Democrats have long resisted.

Manchin left the meeting Wednesday and said he believed a new bill could be released in the coming days.

“Everybody’s working in good faith on this,” he said. “It’s everybody’s input, not just mine, but I think mine, maybe . . . got us all talking and rolling in the direction that we had to go back to basics,” he said.

Others who attended the meeting included Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the For the People Act’s lead author, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the Senate committee overseeing election issues.

Texas Democrats find voting rights are a tough sell as Capitol Hill turns its focus to Biden’s economic agenda

It remains uncertain how even narrower legislation could become law, with Republicans firmly opposed to the type of federal mandates contemplated by Democrats and with multiple Democrats — including Manchin — thus far unwilling to discard the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority requirement to skirt the GOP opposition.

The drafting of a bill, however, could give Democrats a new fight to rally around and a way to keep the issue in the public eye while working through their high-stakes economic agenda.

“What you will see over the next few days is a Democratic caucus that knows how to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Warnock said. “We’ll be working on infrastructure, and we’ll be working on the infrastructure of our democracy.”

None of the senators would discuss Wednesday which elements would be included and excluded from the revised bill, but one Democrat familiar with the talks said the bill will largely follow Manchin’s outline and is also likely to include language aimed at shoring up the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been weakened under recent Supreme Court decisions.

Another possible addition, that person said, is language aimed at countering “election subversion” — such as provisions in the new Georgia law that could allow the state legislature to overrule local boards of elections. The Democrat was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Asked about next steps — including a possible vote on the new legislation — Warnock declined to offer details Wednesday. “Stay tuned,” he said.