Joe Manchin Carefully Backs Landmark Voting Rights Bill, But Wants GOP Support

The West Virginia senator supports parts of Democrats' top legislative priority. But he wants it to be bipartisan.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) signaled Thursday that he would support elements of fellow Democrats’ top legislative priority: a package of voting rights, campaign finance, redistricting and ethics reforms.

But first, he wants Republicans on board, too ― a heavy lift given hardline GOP opposition to the bill.

“As the Senate prepares to take up the For the People Act, we must work toward a bipartisan solution that protects everyone’s right to vote, secures our elections from foreign interference, and increases transparency in our campaign finance laws,” Manchin wrote in a public letter.

Manchin’s position on the bill is vital for determining whether it has any chance of being enacted into law. He is the only Democratic or independent senator who has not co-sponsored it, and before Thursday, he had not released any statement on the bill.

While Manchin’s endorsement of the elements of the bill is seen as a positive development by the bill’s proponents, he also warned against passing the bill on a solely partisan basis.

“Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government,” he said.

He specifically endorsed six elements currently in the bill, which include five previously introduced pieces of legislation. They include mandating 15 days of early voting, including two weekends; the Native American Voting Rights Act, which would authorize additional resources to elections in Native American and Alaska Native communities; the Secure Elections Act and the Prevent Election Hacking Act, which would provide funds to states to bolster election security and protect election infrastructure from hacking attempts; the DISCLOSE Act, which would mandate the disclosure of currently undisclosed independent election spending; and the Honest Ads Act, which requires digital platforms to disclose political advertising. The DISCLOSE Act fell to a Republican filibuster by one vote in 2010.

The Native American Voting Rights Act, Secure Elections Act, Prevent Election Hacking Act and Honest Ads Act were all previously introduced with bipartisan support.

Manchin also noted some parts of the bill that he may not favor by stating that there are “legitimate concerns about the implementation” of the bill, “especially in rural areas.” This could be in response to complaints among some rural election administrators in West Virginia related to the bill’s mandate for states to allow same-day voter registration.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) backed elements of the For The People Act in a statement issued on March 25.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) backed elements of the For The People Act in a statement issued on March 25.
Leigh Vogel-Pool via Getty Images

“This statement shows that Joe Manchin remains true to his long-time support for government reforms to clean up corruption Washington, improve elections, and shine a light on big money in politics,” Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen, one of the leading proponents of the For The People Act, said in an emailed statement. “Bottom line, he is saying clearly that this bill is critical, and we need to work to get it done.”

Manchin’s review of what provisions in the For The People Act he will support and oppose is ongoing, and not limited to those listed in his letter.

“I just gave you an overview of things I think we should be doing,” Manchin told HuffPost. “We’re still looking into it. I have staff looking over every way, shape and form. We’re talking to national secretaries of state because I was a secretary of state.”

The For The People Act is currently viewed as headed toward a showdown with the Senate’s filibuster rules, which require most bills to receive 60 votes to proceed to debate.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the bill’s lead sponsors, have called for changing Senate filibuster rules to pass the bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared that “everything is on the table” if Republicans block the bill on the floor with a filibuster. Manchin, however, says that he will not budge on the 60-vote threshold for ending filibuster.

But his endorsement of both the spirit of the bill and specific elements of it means that all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus can now be said to back consideration of the bill on the floor. And that is where the showdown over the filibuster will play out.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.

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