After keeping his own caucus in suspense for the last few days, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced Tuesday afternoon that he’d vote with what’s expected to be the rest of the Democratic caucus to proceed to debate on the For the People Act.
“Over the past month, I have worked to eliminate the far reaching provisions of S.1, the For the People Act– which I do not support. I’ve found common ground with my Democratic colleagues on a new version of the bill that ensures our elections are fair, accessible and secure,” he said in a statement. “Today I will vote ‘YES’ to move to debate this updated voting legislation as a substitute amendment to ensure every eligible voter is able to cast their ballot and participate in our great democracy.”
Even with Manchin’s yes vote, the effort is expected to fall far short of the numbers needed to overcome Republicans’ filibuster. But Democrats described it as a necessary first step to bring Manchin into the fold on the bill — a precursor to eventually convincing him and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to allow changes to the filibuster that would let the bill pass.
“My hope is that if we see a unified Republican effort to filibuster voting rights, it will stiffen the spine of my Democratic colleagues to protect our democracy,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told reporters Tuesday.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told TPM that Tuesday’s vote is “a good chance to have democratic unanimity.”
“That’s an important milestone I think, but then after this, we’re gonna have to have some more engagement on the rules,” he added.
Sinema deflated some Democratic hope on that score with an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Tuesday, where she reiterated her opposition to getting rid of the filibuster, including on voting rights. As part of her argument, she said that blowing up the rule will clear the way for a oneday Republican majority to run roughshod over the Democratic minority, passing hard-right legislation like strict voter ID requirements.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) dismissed Sinema’s rationale for maintaining the Senate rule Tuesday.
“If Mitch McConnell believes that he will get even the tiniest advantage from removing the filibuster in the future, he will do it regardless of what Democrats have done in the past,” she told reporters.
For the past few days, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), whose Rules Committee marked up the bill, has taken the lead in trying to massage Manchin’s position into one that jibes with the rest of the caucus on the For the People Act. In comments Tuesday, she emphasized areas of commonality, like the idea of automatic voter pre-registration when teens get their drivers’ licenses and 15 days of early voting. Figuring out a compromise on voter ID, she said, continues to be a sticking point.
“There are things we’re still discussing with Senator Manchin, but this is a very positive step that he put out an extensive proposal and it’s not just a list of things — it’s not done, but this is the beginning,” she told reporters.
Thanks to the GOP filibuster, Manchin’s amendments likely won’t see any floor debate, one of the points Democratic leadership has been hammering in advance of the vote.
Getting Manchin on board with the legislation, and putting up a unified 50 votes against the Republican filibuster, were achievements Democrats needed to keep any hope of passing voting rights alive. But as it has the whole term, the filibuster continues to cast a shadow over any chance of the legislation actually seeing the light of law.
“I think that in this moment in American history, when there are coordinated efforts to undermine American democracy and take away the right of the people to vote, the United States Congress has got to act and act decisively,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told reporters Tuesday. “And if there’s no support to protect the rights of people of color, young people, people with disabilities to cast a ballot, the United States Senate has got to act. If it takes 50 votes and the vice president to do it, that’s what it takes.”