Washington — West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who holds the key Democratic vote in the evenly divided Senate, said Sunday he will oppose a sweeping election and campaign finance reform bill and instead encouraged his colleagues to pass voting rights legislation that can garner bipartisan backing.
In an op-ed for the Charleston Gazette-Mail published Sunday, Manchin said he plans to vote against the House-passed For the People Act, which is set to be taken up by the Senate at the end of June, because it is too partisan. Manchin's decision not to support the bill effectively dooms its passage in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans hold 50 seats each, and Vice President Kamala Harris casts tie-breaking votes.
Instead, in an interview with "Face the Nation," the West Virginia Democrat said he believes Republicans will work with their Democratic counterparts to craft a voting rights bill that can pass the upper chamber with support from both parties.
"I'm going to fight for this, and I think the Republicans will fight for this and understand we must come together on a voting rights bill in a bipartisan way," he told "Face the Nation." "You can't divide our country further by thinking you've given leeway to one or the other, and if they think they're going to win by subverting and oppressing people from voting, they're going to lose. They will lose."
While Manchin opposes the For the People Act, he does support another voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. That provision required certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to receive approval, known as preclearance, from the federal government before making changes to their voting rules.
Manchin suggested the preclearance requirement be applied to all 50 states and said this voting rights measure already has support from at least one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. It's unclear, however, whether any other GOP senator would vote in favor of the proposal.
"The fundamental purpose of our democracy is the freedom of our elections," he said. "If we can't come to agreement on that, God help us."
Congress has moved swiftly on legislation addressing election reforms as legislators in 48 states have introduced more than 380 bills that would restrict voting rights, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Changes to voting procedures in several states, including Georgia, Arizona and Florida, have already been signed into law, while a bill overhauling elections in Texas has stalled.
Asked why Republicans would support federal legislation that could dismantle voting rules approved at the state level, Manchin warned GOP lawmakers could face negative consequences from the changes.
"Someone's got to fight for this," he said. "We've got to say, listen, the divided country that we're in today, the insurrection that we saw on January the 6th, if we don't try to heal that, if we don't make every effort and go beyond the call of duty, than what are we and who are we?"
Even before Manchin announced his decision to vote against the For the People Act, the measure was unlikely to advance in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to end debate on a bill and overcome a filibuster.
The Republican opposition to that legislation and others poised to be brought to the Senate floor has led Democrats to call for an end to the legislative filibuster, which would allow bills to advance with a simple majority and clear hurdles to implementing President Biden's agenda.
But Manchin has repeatedly come out against eliminating the filibuster and said doing so could come back to hurt Democrats in the future if Republicans gain control of Congress and the White House.
"We need to work within the framework of what we have. There's ways we can move forward," he said.