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On The Voting Rights Act, Manchin Is Unconvinced By Civil Rights Leaders.
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On The Voting Rights Act, Manchin Is Unconvinced By Civil Rights Leaders.


Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) said Tuesday that a meeting with high-profile civil rights leaders who pressed him to support the legislation had not changed his mind about opposing a sweeping Democratic-led voting rights bill.

Manchin described the meeting as "very very good," "respectful," and "informative," but he did not appear to be swayed by the group's arguments.

“No, I don’t think anybody changed positions,” Manchin told reporters after the meeting, adding, “We’re just learning where everyone is coming from, and we’re learning on everyone’s position.”

“I’m very concerned about our democracy, protecting people’s voting rights and ensuring that this is done, and making sure we understand how fragile we are as a country,” he added.

Manchin's opposition dooms the bill, known as the For the People Act, in the Senate's evenly divided chamber. Civil rights groups tried to persuade Manchin to change his mind and support the House's sweeping package of voting rights, campaign finance, redistricting, and ethics reforms, which passed in April.

Representatives from the NAACP, the Urban League, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Action Network, the National Council for Negro Women, and the National Council for Black Civic Participation were present at the meeting.

Participants stated that they would continue to press Manchin's case.

“We focused on finding common ground and acknowledged that the American people desire a government and democratic process that works in their best interests through free, fair, and inclusive elections,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said after the meeting in a statement. “We are committed to ongoing conversations with Senator Manchin, as well as all senators, as we work to pass federal legislation.”

Manchin co-sponsored similar legislation in 2019, but announced his opposition to it and his support for changing Senate filibuster rules to ensure its passage in an essay published on Sunday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. His column raised no substantive complaints about any provision of the bill, and said he opposed it because no Republican in Congress supported it.

“I believe that partisan voting legislation will sever the already fraying ties of our democracy, and as such, I will vote against the For the People Act,” Manchin wrote.

The bill would establish national election law standards that would effectively overturn voter suppression laws passed by Republicans in state legislatures in recent months, which are part of a GOP effort to uphold Donald Trump's lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Manchin said he supported the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a yet-to-be-introduced bill that would reinstate 1965 Voting Rights Act provisions allowing preclearance of state and local election rules for any discrimination based on race.

Despite Manchin's comments about Republican bipartisanship, Senate passage of the John Lewis legislation will require the votes of at least ten Republicans, which is about as likely as finding ten Republicans to pass the For The People Act.

According to one aide familiar with the discussions, Manchin focused on his voting history during Tuesday's virtual meeting, while other participants objected to his pitting the For the People Act against the John Lewis bill, as well as his deference to a historical concept of bipartisanship.

Participants at Tuesday's meeting argued against Manchin's decision to pit the bill and the John Lewis law against each other, as well as his deference to a historical concept of bipartisanship.

The civil rights leaders intended to write a letter to Democratic and Republican Senate leaders outlining the differences between the For The People Act and the John Lewis bill.

The groups support both, but note that the John Lewis Act, as currently conceived, would only challenge future state election laws that discriminated on the basis of race, leaving voter suppression laws passed in 2021 and earlier in effect. The For The People Act, on the other hand, would overturn many provisions of those voter suppression laws passed since Trump's election defeat.

Participants at the meeting also disputed Manchin's assertion that civil rights or voting rights legislation must be bipartisan, pointing out that the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were passed on partisan votes, as were a number of civil rights laws enacted after the Civil War.

This is not the first time Manchin, who is 73 and may not run for reelection, has met with activists to discuss legislation he opposes. In February, civil rights leaders and union organizers pushed Manchin to support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but he did not change his position.

The Rev. William Barber, the leader of the Poor People's Campaign who hosted Moral Monday protests in North Carolina and was also at Manchin's minimum wage meeting, announced a "Moral March" in West Virginia on June 14, followed by a rally in Washington on June 23, to target Manchin for his opposition to voting rights and a $15 minimum wage.

Civil rights leaders must remember that the people want the VRA and the For The People Act restored. Do not let Manchin off the hook by claiming that his support for the VRA is a victory; it is a ruse. — Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) June 7, 2021

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers Tuesday that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is being rewritten to avoid legal challenges, will not be ready for a vote in the House until the fall.

“It is not a substitute for H.R. 1, the For the People Act,” Pelosi wrote.

Members of the House Congressional Black Caucus blasted Manchin on Monday, alleging that he has joined the Republican filibuster of the For The People Act.

“By being an obstructionist, he is doing the Republican Party’s work,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).

Manchin told reporters on Tuesday that he understands the "disappointment."

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) said Monday that Manchin should allow the Senate to vote on the bill up or down and not join Republicans in filibustering it.

“This democracy is at a crossroads,” Clyburn said, adding, “and he better stop playing with it because if you are all for preserving the integrity of this great country, you will be preserving the right of the people to vote, which is what Manchin is playing with.”

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