House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) dug down on the distinction between the For the People Act and the John Lewis Act in a letter to her House colleagues, though the message seems tailor-made for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Manchin drove a stake through the heart of much of the Democratic agenda in recent weeks, with an op-ed where he came out against H.R.1/S.1 and reaffirmed his refusal to reform the filibuster.
Instead, Manchin said he’d support the John Lewis Act, H.R.4, as if it was a narrower version of the Democrats’ sweeping democracy reform package.
In reality, and as Pelosi pressed, they are two fundamentally different pieces of legislation with different goals.
S.1 would cover such a range of reforms as automatically registering eligible citizens to vote, establishing bipartisan commissions to handle redistricting and ensuring that every state has mail and early in-person voting options.
The John Lewis Act was written in response to a 2013 Supreme Court case which gutted the Voting Rights Act by tossing out a formula used to determine if states had histories of racial voting discrimination and were required to get Justice Department approval before enacting new voting laws or redistricting. The Act would replace that void with an updated formula, as well as making it easier for the DOJ to send election observers and to block election law changes that violate people’s constitutional right to vote.
Manchin has expressed little about his policy objection to S.1 or preference for H.R.4: rather, he has expressed opposition to legislation that lacks Republican support. HR4 currently has the support of exactly one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), far short of the 10 needed to break the filibuster Manchin ensures remains in place.
Some have pushed for the John Lewis Act to replace S.1 as the framework for further democracy safeguards, though Pelosi has shut down that idea by emphasizing the months of work left to do on H.R.4, including congressional hearings to create a record that can be used to to fortify it against likely legal challenges.
“H.R. 1 protects us in the current elections and must pass now,” Pelosi wrote. “H.R. 4 is the foundation for future elections and must be passed in a way that is constitutionally ironclad. Any premature passage could be very damaging to its success.”
Currently, a House Judiciary subcommittee overseeing federal elections is compiling evidence of discriminatory voting practices to use in markup of the bill. Pelosi has said that the legislation probably won’t be ready until the fall.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) still intends to bring S.1 to the floor this month where it will likely die a bipartisan death, thanks to Manchin. While the other 49 Democrats co-sponsor the legislation, it currently has no Republican support.