Parts of the bill are meant to overrule provisions contained in a host of GOP-passed state laws that have placed restrictions on early voting, mail-in voting, ballot drop boxes and other policies that make it easier to cast a ballot, in response to former president Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 presidential election.
“I’ve taken a look at all the new state laws — none of them are designed to suppress the vote,” McConnell said Thursday. “There is no rational basis for the federal government to take over all of American elections.”
The only remaining question is whether all 50 Democratic senators will unite in support of debating the bill, known as the For the People Act, and how they will react once Republicans block the legislation.
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has long withheld support for the sprawling bill, which contains dozens of provisions for disparate voting, campaign finance and elections, citing a lack of GOP support. But this week he circulated a three-page memo outlining potential changes that could win his support, including adopting some traditional Republican priorities such as mandating that voters provide identification and giving state and local elections officials a free hand to maintain their voter rolls.
After huddling with his fellow Democratic senators Thursday, Manchin suggested that he would join with them to at least start debating the bill next week. “I would think we all would want to do that,” he said. “You could air your differences that you might have or what your concerns are or what your thoughts may be.”
But McConnell said flatly Wednesday that his party would not be joining in.
“All Republicans, I think, will oppose that . . . if that were to be surfaced on the floor,” he said.
McConnell’s remarks came not long after the Manchin proposal won a notable endorsement from Democratic voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams, who said in a morning CNN appearance that she could “absolutely” support his proposal and called it a “first and important step to preserving our democracy.”
Other Democrats also spoke positively about Manchin’s proposal — and several senators said they could be willing to accept a voter ID mandate as part of a broader package.
“I don’t know anybody who believes that people shouldn’t have to prove that they are who they say they are,” said Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), a close ally of Abrams. “But what has happened over the years is people have played with common sense identification and put into place restrictive measures intended not to preserve the integrity of the outcome, but to select certain voters. That’s what I oppose.”
Abrams, a former Georgia state legislative leader and gubernatorial candidate, is an influential figure among Democrats, who credit her efforts with helping deliver Georgia for President Biden in 2020. But she is a reviled figure among the Republican voter base, and McConnell and other GOP leaders immediately used her words of support to cast the Manchin proposal as unacceptable.
“When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Sen. Manchin’s proposal, it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees election issues.
In an interview Thursday, Abrams said she did not agree with every piece of Manchin’s proposal but said it “signaled a willingness to engage and to have conversations” about voting legislation. “But this is a process,” she added, “which means others are going to also have a say.”
The most important message Manchin’s engagement has sent, Abrams said, is that the effort to pass federal voting rights legislation still has momentum. And she said the GOP efforts to weaponize her support for the new talks among Democrats did not change the political fundamentals of the partisan clash.
“If I disagreed with it, they were going to oppose it. If I agreed with it, they were going to oppose it,” she said. “There’s nothing in access to the right to vote that will appease Mitch McConnell.”
McConnell gathered about a dozen Republican senators to stand with him in front of reporters Thursday as he lambasted the Democratic voting rights efforts, a show of force that reflected his own long-standing distaste for legislation that puts federal fetters on campaigns and elections as well as the depth of support he has within his caucus for his hard-line approach.
That approach is backstopped by the Senate filibuster — the 60-vote supermajority rule that gives a united minority an effective veto — and the knowledge that Manchin and several other Democratic senators do not currently support changing that rule.
As he rolled out his compromise proposal Wednesday, Manchin simultaneously made clear that he remains unwilling to change Senate rules to pass major legislation with a simple majority. On Thursday, he said he was still hopeful that some Republicans could be convinced to support some type of elections bill.
“McConnell has the right to do whatever he thinks he can do,” Manchin told reporters. “I would hope that there’s enough good Republicans who understand the bedrock of our society is having an accessible, open, fair and secure election.”
However, there appears to be little space for compromise, with McConnell sketching out a broad position against any federal legislation — a view the vast majority of his colleagues have embraced.
Several of them Thursday took aim at provisions of the Democratic bill that Manchin has indicated should be dropped from the legislation, such as a public financing system for congressional campaigns. Others highlighted provisions that Manchin indicated support for, such as ending the partisan gerrymandering of House districts.
“Anything that involves the federal government in that process, I’d be opposed to,” Blunt said. “So it wouldn’t matter if it was a degree of federal involvement or total federal involvement, I’d still think that was not the right place for the federal government to be.”
Democrats, meanwhile, were heartened by Manchin’s newfound willingness to negotiate, even as they appear poised to hit another dead end with Tuesday’s vote due to the filibuster rule.
Leaving Thursday’s caucus meeting, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the Rules Committee chairwoman, said she was hopeful that Democrats would show a united front next week and that the path forward would remain open to negotiation.
“If we reach unity on a voting bill in the Democratic Party, with all of the debates that we have been having over the last few months, I don’t think anything is over yet,” she said.
Some lawmakers suggested that a party-line vote next week will force a more direct reckoning with the filibuster inside the Democratic ranks.
Should Republicans block the bill, Warnock said, “I think that we will have some decisions to make about how we make sure that we assure every American has a right to vote.”
Paul Kane and John Wagner contributed to this report.