Washington — Senator Joe Manchin met with leaders of several civil rights organizations on Tuesday morning, two days after the moderate Democrat from West Virginiahe would not support an expansive but controversial voting rights and elections reform bill.
Manchin's public opposition has all but doomed H.R. 1, known as the For the People Act, which the Senate will still consider later this month amid sweeping efforts by Republican-led states to pass laws restricting voting rights.
Participants in Tuesday's virtual meeting included NAACP President Derrick Johnson, National Urban League President Marc Morial, and Reverend Al Sharpton; as well as representatives from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Council of Negro Women and National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Manchin told reporters after the meeting that it was "very productive" and "very informative," and that participants "had a constructive conversation." He said that "everyone's position was discussed," but also acknowledged he didn't believe anyone changed their stance.
"I'm very much concerned about our democracy and protecting people's voting rights, making sure that's done," Manchin said, adding that he was going to "continue conversations" with these leaders going forward.
In a joint statement, the civil rights leaders who met with Manchin also called it a "very constructive meeting," and said that they urged the senator to support the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 knocked down by the Supreme Court.
"The two voting rights bills are a top priority and essential to protect the freedom to vote. There continues to be an unprecedented partisan wave of state legislative proposals that are aimed at denying the right to vote — particularly for Black and Brown people," the leaders said in their statement. "The leaders also conveyed to Senator Manchin that a minority of senators must not be able to abuse the filibuster to impede much needed progress. Congress must act so all Americans have meaningful access to the ballot."
Manchin expressed his opposition to the bill in an op-ed for the Charleston Gazette-Mail published Sunday, and reiterated that he would not support eliminating the filibuster, which would allow legislation to advance in the Senate with a simple majority. Sixty votes are currently required to limit debate on a bill and overcome a filibuster. As Democrats only hold 50 seats in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting any tie-breaking vote, this means that most legislation needs support from 10 Republicans to advance. Many of Democrats' priorities, including voting rights legislation, are unable to garner sufficient Republican support.
In an interview with CBS News after the meeting on Tuesday, Johnson said that he was "encouraged" by Manchin's willingness to "have a dialogue" and by his support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
"We got a sense in talking to him that he understands the gravity of the moment, the urgency of the moment and his willingness to figure out a solution. Quite frankly, he's conflicted. He understands the need to protect the right to vote, but he is committed to the procedural rules of the Senate," Johnson said.
In anon Sunday, Manchin 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 said.
Manchin does support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or H.R. 4, 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.
This bill has the support of at least one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski, but it's unclear whether she will be joined by any other GOP senators. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out in opposition to the bill on Tuesday, indicating that it is incredibly unlikely that the bill will garner sufficient Republican support.
Despite Manchin's opposition to the For the People Act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is stillat the end of June. Some Democrats have argued in favor of prioritizing H.R. 4, or slimming down the For the People Act to excise the more controversial portions. But others want to ratchet up the pressure on Manchin and other potential holdouts.
Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who has previously advocated for creating an exception in the filibuster for civil rights legislation, told reporters on Monday that he had spoken to Manchin about voting rights legislation. He countered Manchin's argument about the need to pass bipartisan voting rights legislation, saying "that's an interesting thing to say in light of the fact that we are seeing all of these decidedly partisan bills coming out of state legislatures."
"I think that Joe Manchin understands that this is a defining moment in American history, and that our children are going to judge us, our grandchildren are going to judge us based on what we do right now," Warnock said. "I'm committed as ever to make sure that we preserve voting rights in this country. And if we as Senators fail to do that, we have failed in the most fundamental way."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic colleagues on Tuesday that passing H.R. 4 was not a sufficient substitute for the For the People Act.
"H.R. 4 must be passed, but it will not be ready until the fall, and it is not a substitute for H.R. 1. Congressman John Lewis wrote 300 pages of H.R. 1 to end voter suppression. H.R. 1/S. 1 must be passed now. It would be our hope to have this pass the House and Senate in a bipartisan way," Pelosi said.
Manchin will also continue to face pressure from voting rights activists. The voting rights group Fair Fight Action, headed by activist and former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, tweeted on Monday that his organization would lead a "Moral March on Manchin" in West Virginia in support of the bill.to help mobilize young voters of color around the For the People Act. Reverend William Barber II, who leads the Poor People's Campaign,
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 been temporarily stalled.
Melissa Quinn and Nikole Killion contributed to this report.
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