It didn’t take long for a supposedly bipartisan compromise on voting rights legislation that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is floating to get dumped on by a key Republican.
At a Thursday Senate Judiciary Committee meeting to vote on one of President Biden’s key Justice Department nominees, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) didn’t call out Manchin by name. But he referenced a proposal Manchin has recently floated — first to a local news outlet, and then more explicitly in an interview Wednesday with ABC News — for addressing voting rights.
Manchin is currently the lone Senate Democrat not publicly supporting the For The People Act, Democrats’ sprawling democracy overhaul legislation that would beat back many of the restrictive state-level voting policies advancing across the county. The For the People Act — also known as S1 — stands no chance of becoming law for as long as Manchin and other centrist Democrats oppose blowing up the filibuster to ram it through.
Manchin says he would not support major elections legislation done on a purely partisan basis. Instead, Manchin has suggested that lawmakers focus on a restoring the Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. The Supreme Court invalidated the formula that determined which states — based on their history of discriminating against minority votes — must get federal approval for changes to their election practices.
Manchin is now pitching a fix to the Voting Rights Act that would subject all 50 states to the so-called preclearance process. That goes farther than the VRA restoration legislation that has been previously introduced, which is moving separately from s1 so Democrats can create the kind of legislative record that will make the law more resistant to legal attack. Manchin nonetheless has described the approach as something to be done with bipartisan support.
On Thursday, Cornyn signaled that such an idea would not get much buy-in from the Republican Party.
He characterized it in suspicious terms. The idea of a 50-state preclearance system has only been outlined by Manchin in vague terms, which to Cornyn, meant that there is an “effort afoot” to do through the “back door” what S1 was trying to do through the “front door:” a supposed federal “takeover” of the U.S. election system.
He then used the notion of a 50-state preclearance system to take another whack at Kristen Clarke, the nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division whose confirmation was being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
“I know that Ms. Clarke, if she is confirmed —as she probably will be, unfortunately, without my support — will be integral to that process,” Cornyn said, while suggesting she would not be impartial in her handling of approving election policy changes.
When the Voting Rights Act was last renewed by Congress, it had unanimous support in the Senate. But since the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Republicans have been cagey about what kind of fix they would support and refused to take up any VRA revival legislation while they were in control of Congress.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) — a retiring Republican in Senate leadership who voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act during the 2006 renewal— told TPM this week he is in discussions with a few Democrats about restoring the VRA. But he wouldn’t say what kind of pre-clearance formula he would support. Nor could he say whether a bill fixing the VRA would ultimate get the 10 Republican votes it would need to overcome a Senate filibuster.