Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a vote on the House-passed For The People Act later this month—a moment of reckoning for Manchin, who remains the sole holdout among Democratic senators in co-sponsoring the bill. But in reality, both Manchin and Sinema hold the fate of the legislation in their hands based on their repeated commitment to letting Republicans dictate the fate of all legislation through the filibuster.
But activists and Democrats are training their sights more on Manchin, viewing him as the linchpin to any progress on moving voting rights legislation among other measures, such as police reform, gun control, and immigration.The Washington Post quoted one Democratic aide as describing a party in a state of “panic” over Manchin’s ability to sink Biden’s agenda and single-handedly disenfranchise millions of voters nationwide.
Rev. William J. Barber II, a civil rights leader who attended the Tulsa commemoration, said Democrats “need to let Manchin understand we elected Joe Biden — not Joe Manchin — to be president.”
But many Democratic senators are feeling equally as frustrated as activists. “This legislation is the ballgame,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told the Post. “If we want any fair strike zone or distance between the bases, we’ve got to pass this.”
Schumer appears to be packing June with a series of looming filibuster fights over paycheck fairness (a victim of Obama-era GOP filibustering) and potentially measures on gun control and LGBTQ equality—all culminating in a vote on the For the People Act. The point of the entire exercise seems to be proving to Manchin over and over again that 10 GOP votes will never materialize for anything—making Republican-led filibusters the death knell of all legislation. In fact, Manchin already suffered a demoralizing defeat last week when Senate Republicans voted to kill a House-passed measure to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol. Manchin called the GOP blockade “truly disheartening” and ultimately blamed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for dooming the bill. Now McConnell appears to be trying to convince Manchin that he’s negotiating in good faith on Biden’s infrastructure/jobs plan—something only an utter fool would believe.
But on voting rights, Manchin has maintained that passing any measure on a party-line vote would further divide the country. “A major policy change such as that [which] goes down on partisan lines would be very detrimental and, I think, very harmful to our country,” he said last month.
The key to any shift in Manchin’s thinking may come down to whether Democrats can convince him that the GOP-driven voter suppression laws already enacted in at least 14 states pose far more of an existential threat to our democracy than any party-line vote in the Senate to safeguard voting rights.
In a closed-door caucus meeting last week, the party’s top elections lawyer, Marc Elias, was invited to detail the sheer breadth and depth of the GOP’s sweeping overhaul of voting laws at the state level across the country. It was another instance in which Manchin stood out as the unnamed target of the much of the discussion within the caucus, according to the Post.
Biden’s remarks at the Tulsa rally also upped the ante, with the president making certain Americans knew why he hadn’t yet passed more legislation, including measures to protect voting rights.
“I hear all the folks on TV saying why doesn’t Biden get this done?” Biden noted. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends,” he added.
But Biden also vowed to continue fighting voter suppression. “This sacred right is under assault with incredible intensity like I’ve never seen,” Biden said, calling Republican efforts “completely un-American.”
Whether Democrats’ maximal pressure campaign can pry Manchin loose from his pledge to let McConnell hold both Biden’s agenda and the entire country hostage remains to be seen. A month from now—after Senate Republicans have laid waste to every bill in their midst—we’ll have a much better picture of whether Manchin is actually committed to preserving our democracy or just pretending he cares about it.