Sen. Joe Manchin announced on Sunday that he will vote against Democrats’ expansive election and ethics reform bill, dealing a blow to one of his party’s top priorities.
In an op-ed published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the West Virginian warned that “partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy” and reiterated that he will not vote to scrap or modify the legislative filibuster.
Manchin’s decision to oppose the bill his leaders have given the symbolically significant title “S.1.” is not entirely surprising. He is the only Senate Democrat who did not co-sponsor the legislation and previously expressed concerns about passing election reform measures along party lines. But some Democrats had held out hope that Manchin could be convinced.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning to put the bill on the floor the last week of June. Many Democrats view passing the legislation as a necessary response to Republican laws introduced at the state level that limit ballot access. The Democratic bill would establish federally mandated voting rules and require no-excuse mail voting and in-person voting. In addition, it would limit partisan gerrymandering and create a public financing system.
Progressives have long hoped that the election reform bill would be the vehicle for a fight over the future of the legislative filibuster, given that the legislation has no Republican support. But Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have both repeatedly emphasized that they will not nix the 60-vote threshold now in place for most bills.
In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” hours after the publication of his op-ed, Manchin defended his opposition to the so-called For the People Act, describing it as “the wrong piece of legislation to bring our country together and unite our country.”
“I’m not supporting that because I think it would divide us further,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a country that’s divided any further than [the one] I’m in right now.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), another co-sponsor of the legislation who caucuses with Senate Democrats, acknowledged Sunday that “there are things that can be modified” in the election reform bill.
“I have said that all along. It’s an 800 or 900 or 1,000-page bill. There are clearly some things I think need to be negotiated. And I think Joe Manchin realizes that,” King told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement on Sunday that although “I wish with all my heart that this bill weren’t necessary … I am dead set against doing nothing.” He added: “As I have told all my colleagues many times, I am open to any conversation about the provisions of this bill, and will not give up on American democracy.”
In his op-ed, Manchin restated his support for a voting rights bill named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would restore a requirement that certain jurisdictions receive federal approval before making changes to voting laws. But that bill also has an uphill battle in the Senate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only Senate Republican to co-sponsor the legislation last year.