A three-page memo circulated by Manchin’s office this week indicates the West Virginia centrist’s willingness to support key provisions of the For the People Act, the marquee Democratic bill that the House passed in March — including provisions mandating at least two weeks of early voting and measures meant to eliminate partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts
But Manchin’s memo also sketches out several provisions that have historically been opposed by most Democrats, including backing an ID requirement for voters and the ability of local election officials to purge voter rolls using other government records.
According to two Democratic aides familiar with Manchin’s views, he has also signaled to colleagues that he opposes a public financing system for congressional elections that has emerged as one of the most controversial parts of the For the People Act. The aides spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe Manchin’s private communications with other lawmakers.
“I’ve been sharing everything that I support and things I can support and vote with and things that I think is in the bill that doesn’t need to be in the bill, that doesn’t really interact with what we’re doing in West Virginia,” Manchin told reporters Wednesday. “We’ll have to see what changes are made.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has announced that the Senate will take an initial vote on the legislation next week; Manchin said he did not know what changes Schumer and other Democrats would be willing to make to win his support.
The list of demands is, on one hand, good news for congressional Democrats, who have been seeking a way forward by perhaps passing a narrower piece of legislation more closely targeted to the GOP-passed state voting restrictions. But Manchin’s demands — particularly his support for mandatory voter ID laws — could alienate fellow Democrats and create divisions in his party.
In any case, uniting Democrats is not Manchin’s concern. He told reporters Wednesday that he thought Republicans could support a voting rights bill, and he has started trying to jump-start discussions with GOP colleagues on a potential compromise. Manchin hosted a Zoom meeting Monday with several Republican senators and some civil rights leaders, according to a person familiar with the meeting, which was first reported by Politico.
Before detailing his policy views on the For the People Act, Manchin had cited the lack of GOP support for the legislation in explaining his misgivings. And, on Wednesday, he told reporters that he continued to think that Republican support was necessary: “You should not pass any type of a voter bill in the most divisive time of our life,” he said. “Unless you have some unity on this thing, because you just divide the country further.”
He would not say, however, whether the provisions he has sketched out could win their support. “I have no clue — you’ll have to speak to them,” he said, calling the memo a list of “things that we’re already doing and we’ve been doing in many states and in my state.”
Manchin also said Wednesday that he has not changed his views against eliminating the filibuster, the 60-vote supermajority requirement for most Senate bills, meaning the bill would have to garner some GOP support to be viable.
Other Democrats are deeply skeptical that Republicans will ever join them in enacting new voting legislation. Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have uniformly opposed the For the People Act as an unwarranted federal overreach into state affairs. But there has also been no substantial recent attempt by either party to open bipartisan negotiations on the issue.
Schumer lambasted the Republican state voting laws Wednesday as a starkly partisan endeavor — a day after he hosted at a Senate Democratic lunch a delegation of Texas Democrats who worked to block GOP voting restrictions in their state.
“The idea that this can have some kind of bipartisan solution befuddles me, because every action taken in the legislatures is done just with Republican state senators, Republican assembly members, with no Democratic participation or input,” Schumer said. He added that “the Senate should put everything on the line to protect voting rights in this country.”
Manchin has been under pressure for months to join his Democratic colleagues in supporting the For the People Act, and that pressure mounted to a near frenzy when he announced in a June 6 op-ed that he would oppose the bill as written. He met with a group of prominent civil rights leaders in subsequent days and pledged to continue talking about a way forward on voting rights.
As an alternative to the For the People Act, Manchin has proposed advancing a bill that would renew a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that gave the Justice Department power to preemptively review voting laws in jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination. The Supreme Court struck down that provision in 2013, and Congress has not acted to renew it.
Manchin’s memo this week proposes a number of further refinements to the Voting Rights Act renewal, beyond those that are being entertained by congressional Democrats. One would require “objective measures” for determining whether a jurisdiction has a pattern of discrimination requiring preemptive federal review.
“I think that we’re getting a better understanding of each other, of what’s going on and what’s at stake here,” Manchin said Wednesday of his recent conversations with civil rights leaders and others. “I think it’s imperative that we have an election process that we all agree on.”
Schumer reiterated Wednesday that the Senate would vote on election legislation next week, but he has not detailed precisely what bill he will seek to advance. It is also unclear whether Schumer would delay a vote to reach an accord with Manchin.
Senate Democrats are expected to discuss next steps at a caucus meeting Thursday.
“These conversations are ongoing, and we’re going to come to an agreement, and we’re going to move this forward,” said one Democratic aide familiar with the talks.