Democrats consider voting bill changes amid Manchin . opposition


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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats Said They Want Changes In their proposal for a revision of the elections, after central centrist Sen. Joe Manchin had made it clear: he opposed both the current bill and any imminent move to weaken Republicans’ power to block legislation.

“We’re open to changes and adjustments, as long as it does its job,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY). He added that “we have had discussions with Senator Manchin and they are continuing.”


The voting measure touches almost every aspect of the electoral system, from how districts are drawn, to how campaigns are funded, to how voters register and check eligibility.

Mr. Schumer spoke after Senate Democrats met behind closed doors at a weekly luncheon where the standoff was a central topic. Mr Manchin called the current bill, the For the People Act or S-1, too biased and said any changes to the electoral law should have the support of both parties. He missed the meeting and a spokeswoman for Manchin said he had a conflicting meeting.

sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the Democratic whip, said members had a candid conversation over Tuesday’s lunch. “There are a lot of strong feelings about that bill,” he said, adding that most members felt it was necessary and popular. “But we’re waiting to see how Senator Manchin will respond.”

Mr Manchin promised to share a list of amenities he would find acceptable, Mr Durbin said. The pledge came after Democrats complained that Mr. Manchin had refused to state what changes he wanted.

“We have 50 members and we want them all on board,” he said.

Democrats also downplayed the prospects for an alternative proposal from Mr. Manchin, saying it could not serve as a substitute for the broader package, while top Republicans flatly rejected the idea. That proposal, based on legislation named for the late Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), would give more federal control over state electoral practices.

A political battle over voting reform is heating up in Washington and across the country following the changes the pandemic brought about in the 2020 elections. Gerald F. Seib of WSJ explains. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Manchin spoke with civil rights leaders, including Derrick Johnson, chairman of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, chairman of the National Urban League, about voting laws.

“We had a constructive conversation,” Mr Manchin told reporters after the meeting. “I’m very concerned about our democracy, protecting people’s voting rights, making sure that happens and making sure we understand how vulnerable, how vulnerable we are as a country today.”

In an interview, Mr. Morial that “we have asked him to reconsider his position. He has not told us that he would reconsider his position, but we will continue our dialogue and we will continue to press.”

The Senate is evenly split, but the Democrats are in control because Vice President Kamala Harris can cut ties. While the Voting Rights Act would require 60 more votes to pass, Democrats had hoped to unite behind it. If all 50 Democrats support the legislation, activists hoped to argue that passing the voting bill would be worth doing to abolish the 60-vote threshold known as the legislative filibuster.

In recent months, Mr Manchin has repeatedly expressed concerns about the voting law and: attempts to end or weaken the filibuster. Over the weekend, Mr Manchin released an opinion article ruling out his support for the current bill.

Mr Schumer said he was sticking to his plan to vote on the measure this month, despite uncertainty over the bill’s fate. Democrats see little hope of GOP support for any election-related measure, even though some have indicated they would be willing to make changes to the bill.

sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) said she would be willing to support a simplified bill if it meant Democrats could rally behind it. However, she said Mr Manchin needed to be more explicit in which provisions were problematic.

“For example, I honestly don’t know where Joe stands on the actual amenities because if we want to get something done, we need to talk about the actual amenities,” she said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that President Biden was open to what Democratic leaders believe is the viable way forward in voting rights legislation. She said Mr Biden will likely discuss voting rights with Mr Manchin the next time they speak.

No Republican in the Senate supports the Democratic bill, calling it an attempt by Democrats to control how states conduct their elections. They have rejected S-1 as a messaging law, saying it is intended to inflame the Democrats’ liberal base and fuel calls to end the filibuster without a serious effort to pursue bipartisan support or pass legislation .

sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said there are elements of voting legislation that could gain bipartisan support, but there is a fundamental challenge: “Republicans don’t think we should federalize elections, do they?” he said.

Democrats and their allies have viewed the voting law as crucial to maintaining ballot access in the face of changes in the laws of some states regarding voting procedures, election monitoring and other measures.

“I think what the Republican governors and legislatures are doing in this country is un-American. It’s outrageous,” said Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has caucuses with Democrats. “And somehow we’re going to have to protect American democracy.”

Mr Manchin did not specifically state what he believes needs to be changed for the legislation to pass to gain his support. In March, he pointed to elements he supports, such as mandating at least 15 days of early voting, including on weekends.

Mr Manchin has argued that the John Lewis bill could receive bipartisan support, but Democrats have said the measure is not enough on its own. The bill would provide an updated formula for determining which states must pre-approve changes to their voting laws with the federal government.

So far, only one Republican Senate Republican, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who was seen in May, has indicated a willingness to support any kind of amendment to the voting laws.


Photo:

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Zuma Press

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said in a letter to colleagues on Tuesday that she wants the John Lewis Act to become law, but not as a replacement for the broader package. She said Lewis’s bill wouldn’t be ready for vote until the fall.

It is also not clear that such a measure would receive significant support from the JOP. sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) supports the measure named after Mr. Lewis, and Sens. Bill Cassidy (R., La.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) have not rejected the bill because they say they are studying it.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Tuesday he opposed the measure, saying it would “grant the Justice Department almost complete powers to determine the voting systems of every state in America.”

Mr. Manchin has portrayed the bill as an impartial way to subject all 50 states to preclearance requirements. The bill as drafted in previous iterations would not apply to laws enacted since then a 2013 Supreme Court decision effectively wiped out government power over states that historically suppressed minority votes.

“We need the John Lewis Voting Rights Act because it is a powerful tool for future elections,” said Senator Raphael Warnock (D., Ga.). “But we have to find a way to protect the attack on democracy that is happening now.”

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com and Eliza Collins on eliza.collins+1@wsj.com.

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