Shucks, Guess Joe Manchin Never Found Those 10 Republicans Who’d Support Voting Rights
The Democrats' latest attempt to defend democracy from Republicans failed in the Senate because of the fatal combination of math and the filibuster. Senate Democrats had reached a compromise with Joe Manchin on a supposedly bipartisan-friendly Stop Republicans From Cheating bill. This version was called the Freedom to Vote Act and would've made Election Day a public holiday, required same-day registration at all polling locations by 2024, and provided at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections.
Marc Elias, Democratic super lawyer, said it was a very good bill. Stacey Abrams even supported the voter ID requirement that Manchin added. It still died because Republicans aren't interested in helping pass a Stop Republicans From Cheating bill. This would appear obvious to everyone who's not Joe Manchin, whose brain is in the advanced stages of black lung disease.
A month ago, Manchin was asked what his master plan was for passing the Freedom to Vote Act, considering that he wouldn't support a filibuster carve-out even just for voting rights. He said he'd “get 10 Republicans." Why, he was already talking to "reasonable Republicans and friends of mine who understand we need guardrails."
Asked how he plans to get Dems’ new elections bill passed given that he (and others) won’t change filibuster rules,… https://t.co/tlVP69Rkbt— Manu Raju (@Manu Raju) 1631629058.0
This had the makings for a great Aaron Sorkin script to a movie starring Tom Hanks. The pro-filibuster senator might seem impossibly stubborn, maybe hopelessly naive, but he'd manage to win over those 10 Republicans. During the final scene, Hanks’ Manchin and — we're spitballing here — Tom Cruise in lifts as Mitt Romney walk out of the Capitol after the climactic vote. Romney turns to Manchin and says, “This is a democracy, isn't it?" Manchin places a hand on Romney's shoulder and smiles, “Yes, and we've kept it."
But back to reality: Republicans aren't in the market for guardrails to the democracy they're actively driving off a cliff. Here's the thing: Joe Manchin sucks at his job. He looks like some master negotiator when he's flushing out all the good from the reconciliation bill like a human enema, but when negotiating with Democrats, all he has to do is say “no." He's like a Republican that way. Despite all his protestations about wanting to “unite" the country, he can't budge Republicans when it comes to voting rights or even a bipartisan investigation into the January 6 insurrection.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer knew he didn't have the votes to overcome an inevitable filibuster, but he brought the bill to the floor anyway. If he wanted to dare Republicans to block voting rights legislation, he should've demanded they do so while wearing tutus. He might've gotten fewer takers.
"I want to be clear about what just happened on the floor of the Senate. Every single Republican Senator blocked this chamber from having a debate — simply a debate — on protecting Americans' right to vote in free and fair elections," Schumer said in remarks following the vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was his “hope and anticipation" that no Republicans would support the Freedom to Vote Act, which he described as an attempted federal government takeover of how states conduct elections. Hey, that's how he described the For the People Act! It's as if McConnell isn't a good faith actor, and Manchin's bipartisan soft shoe is a waste of time.
Everyone knew Republicans would kill the bill with little shame. President Joe Biden released a statement Wednesday calling for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. He declared, "Democracy – the very soul of America – is at stake." But he acknowledged that Republicans would prevent debate on the bill. He considered that "unconscionable." Now that we've all accepted that Republicans have neither souls nor consciences, maybe we can finally nuke the filibuster and pass the damn bill. Unlike the reconciliation bill, Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were both “yes" votes. This could've passed with the same simple majority Republicans are using to pass their voter suppression bills across the country.
But this would require Joe Manchin admitting he was wrong and learning from his repeated mistakes. Unfortunately for democracy, never shall sun that morrow see.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."