Hope for voting rights? Manchin reportedly 'engaged' in filibuster reform discussions

Hope for voting rights? Manchin reportedly 'engaged' in filibuster reform discussions
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) // CBS News

The last several days have seen several moderate Senate Democrats newly announce their support for filibuster reform in order to pass critical voting rights legislation.

"The Senate has shown it cannot do its basic duty and find 60 Senators to support basic voting rights," Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted Tuesday, "so I support changing the rules around the filibuster for voting rights legislation."

The following day, Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado tweeted, "Enough. It’s time to change the filibuster to protect voting rights."

The public statements of Warner and Hickenlooper were notable precisely because they represent anything but the left wing of the party.

But even as moderate-to-conservative Democratic Senators start to feel the urgency of saving our democracy, the effort always comes down to a question of two other Senators who can tank the entire enterprise: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Manchin, fresh off likely killing any chance of passing the Build Back Better bill by year's end, is like the cloud that hangs over everything Democrats hold dear. The latest voting rights bill, almost entirely tailored to gain Manchin’s vote, seems like an easy mark for someone who has seemed far more protective of an arcane Senate rule than of safeguarding the sacred right to vote in this country.

But the Washington Post's Greg Sargent sees cause for optimism on convincing Manchin to potentially support filibuster reform, smoothing the way to passage of voting rights legislation and helping to insulate the country from GOP efforts to undermine the will of the people. Sargent writes:

I’m told Manchin and a dozen other Senate Democrats met with an expert on Senate rules and discussed various ways of carving out a filibuster exception or otherwise reforming it to allow passage of voting rights legislation. The meeting was organized by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

One source described Manchin as "engaged" in the effort to find a way to pass voting rights by a simple majority threshold.

Manchin is still resistant to flat-out ending the filibuster or even implementing a simple voting rights carve out, fearing it could lead to a slippery slope of polarizing policy reversals depending on which party holds the majority.

That said, Manchin appears to be open to more nuanced yet meaningful reforms, according to Sargent's reporting. These include a return to requiring the minority party to hold the Senate floor during a filibuster, or perhaps placing the burden on the minority party to find 41 votes to sustain a filibuster instead of requiring a 60-vote threshold to end one. These types of reforms hold more resonance with Manchin because they can legitimately be sold has "restoring the filibuster" to something more akin to its original form.

Manchin is also somewhat responsive to the argument that reforms have been made necessary by partisan procedural abuses at the hands of Republicans. Voting rights itself offers one of the best examples of those abuses since the Senate used to regularly pass voting rights bills on a bipartisan basis. The overall argument isn't about fixing the rules so Democrats can pass their agenda, but rather implementing reforms so the Senate can get back to being a functional institution.

In fact, Manchin has seen Senate dysfunction firsthand as he worked to build support for both forming a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and passing his voting rights bill. In both instances, he needed at least ten GOP votes. In the end, only one Republican showed so much as a lick of interest—Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska on voting rights.

The key seems to be convincing Manchin that the Senate is broken and changing the filibuster can restore it to being a more functional entity. That's why many of the recent filibuster tweets from the more moderate wing of the party employ the idea of "changing" or "reforming" the filibuster rather than outright ending or overturning it.

"It’s time to reform the senate rules to reduce gridlock and pass critical legislation like voting rights," Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia tweeted Friday morning.

So, perhaps a glimmer of hope on voting rights. And while Sinema remains a hurdle too, getting one of them onboard reduces the cover they are providing to each other on the matter.

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