Senate Republicans make Joe Manchin look like a gullible chump

Senate Republicans make Joe Manchin look like a gullible chump
Sen. Joe Manchin speaks to Navy Vice Adm. Michael M. Gilday, director of the Joint Staff, before his confirmation hearing for the position of Chief Naval Operations at the U.S. Senate Dirksen Building in Washington, D.C., July 31, 2019.

DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

Civil rights activists have been hailing the For the People Act of 2021 as the most important voting rights bill since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the bill, which has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, is facing an uphill climb in the U.S. Senate because of the filibuster — which centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is opposed to eliminating. Manchin has proposed a compromise, but Talking Points Memo's Tierney Sneed and Washington Post opinion columnist Paul Waldman are pointing out that even the type of compromise Manchin has in mind is getting a cold response from Senate Republicans.

Sneed explains, "The For the People Act, also known as S1, stands no chance of becoming law for as long as Manchin and other centrist Democrats oppose blowing up the filibuster to ram it through. Manchin says he would not support major elections legislation done on a purely partisan basis. Instead, Manchin has suggested that lawmakers focus on restoring the Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. The Supreme Court invalidated the formula that determined which states — based on their history of discriminating against minority votes — must get federal approval for changes to their election practices."

Sneed notes that Manchin "is now pitching a fix to the Voting Rights Act that would subject all 50 states to the so-called preclearance process."

"That goes farther than the VRA restoration legislation that has been previously introduced, which is moving separately from S1 so Democrats can create the kind of legislative record that will make the law more resistant to legal attack," Sneed explains. "Manchin nonetheless has described the approach as something to be done with bipartisan support."

But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is expressing no support for the type of compromise that Manchin has in mind. Sneed points out that the type of "50-state preclearance system" Manchin has "outlined" in "vague terms" is being attacked by Cornyn as an "effort afoot" to get a federal "takeover" of the United States' election system through the "back door" — while the For the People Act is trying to get it through the front door.

Waldman, meanwhile, cites another GOP senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, as a glaring example of why even watered-down voting rights proposals won't satisfy Republicans on the far right.

The Post columnist observes, "On Tuesday, the Senate Rules Committee conducted a markup of the For the People Act, the Democrats' election reform bill, and it produced an extraordinarily revealing moment — one that should be of particular interest to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.). Sometimes, even the phoniest of politicians can stumble into a moment of candor, which is what happened. That politician is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)"

Waldman notes that Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, asked Cruz, "If this amendment and others that you suggest are accepted, would you vote for the bill?" — to which Cruz responded, "To be candid, it is difficult to imagine a set of amendments being adopted that would cause me to vote for this bill. It would have to be a fundamentally different bill. That being said, each of these amendments is designed to strike out egregious aspects of this bill; so, if some of these amendments were adopted, it might conceivably convince some Republicans to support it — if it ceased being a partisan power grab."

Waldman writes, "Forget about Cruz's suggestion that some unnamed Republican senators would support the bill; the key here is Cruz's admission that he won't ever be among them, and that it might get Republican support only 'if it ceased being a partisan power grab.' As far as Republicans are concerned, everything in the For the People Act is a 'partisan power grab.' Anything that gets more people registered, makes voting easier, reduces gerrymandering, limits voter purges, or tries to reveal who's behind 'dark money' — all provisions of the bill — is seen by Republicans as helping Democrats and therefore, completely unacceptable."

According to Waldman, "Republicans are holding up a flashing neon sign: We will never, ever cooperate with you on this issue. Cruz just made this as clear as anyone could possibly ask for. Will Manchin get the message?"

So far, Manchin is showing no signs that he's willing to change his position on the filibuster, even as Republicans continue to make it clear that they are deeply opposed to any serious electoral reforms. While the West Virignia claims he wants to keep the filibuster to preserve the possibility of bipartisan compromise, GOP senators are sending clear signals they will just use it to obstruct the Democrats' agenda.

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