Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came out against the John Lewis Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, dealing a huge blow to a compromise voting measure sought by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Manchin has irked his fellow Democratic colleagues over his opposition to the “For the People Act,” a package of sweeping voting and ethics reforms that Democrats have described as key to the survival of democracy. Federal voting changes, Manchin has argued, should be done on a bipartisan basis to instill confidence in elections.
Instead, Manchin wants Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, another Democratic measure that is backed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). That legislation, named after the late civil rights legend and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), is more narrowly tailored and would, in theory, address GOP efforts to restrict voting access at the state level.
Specifically, the bill would restore the provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 that required states with a history of discrimination to clear any proposed voting changes at the state level with the federal government.
But as McConnell demonstrated on Tuesday, Republicans aren’t likely to support restoring that provision, meaning Manchin’s preferred alternative on voting rights is also dead on arrival in the Senate.
“There’s no threat to the voting rights law. It’s against the law to discriminate in voting on the basis of race already,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday at a weekly press conference when asked about the legislation.
No other Republican has expressed support for the bill other than Murkowski. It would need at least nine other GOP senators to advance in the Senate.
Manchin’s opposition to the For the People Act has left Democrats scrambling to figure out a path forward on voting rights as more GOP-led states move to pass partisan voting changes ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has vowed to hold a vote on the bill later this month, but without all 50 members of his caucus on board, it may not even advance to the floor.
Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats may make changes to the For the People Act to address Manchin’s concerns. Manchin is expected to lay out his objections to the bill this week.
Manchin’s position on the bill is unchanged even after meeting with high-profile civil rights leaders who pressed him to support the legislation earlier on Tuesday. The senator called the meeting “very very good,” “respectful” and “informative,” but appeared unswayed by the group’s arguments.
“I’m very much concerned about our democracy, protecting people’s voting rights and making sure that’s done and making sure we know how fragile we are as a country,” Manchin said after the meeting.