WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday in no uncertain terms that he will not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression and restore ethical controls on the presidency shattered by Donald Trump.
In an opinion piece in a West Virginia paper, Manchin also reiterated his staunch opposition to ending the Senate’s legislative filibuster, which would seem to doom many of President Joe Biden’s most ambitious legislative goals.
The bill, the For the People Act, would roll back dozens of laws being passed by Republican state legislatures to limit early and mail-in voting and empower partisan poll watchers and voting oversight.
The legislation would also force major-party candidates for president and vice president to release 10 years’ worth of personal and business tax returns and end the president’s and vice president’s exemption from executive branch conflict-of-interest rules, which allowed Trump to maintain businesses that profited off his presidency.
“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” Manchin wrote in The Charleston Gazette-Mail, his home state capital’s newspaper.
Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to end debate and break a filibuster on policy legislation. Republican and Democratic senates have chipped away at the filibuster, ensuring that most executive branch appointees and judicial nominees can be confirmed with a simple 51-vote majority. A budget rule, called reconciliation, has also been stretched to pass ambitious legislation under the guise of spending and taxation. Major tax cuts pressed by President George W. Bush and Trump were passed with simple majorities as budget bills, as were parts of the Affordable Care Act and a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill earlier this year.
But bills that are purely policy-oriented are still subject to a 60-vote majority in the Senate, and all 48 Democrats and both liberal-leaning independents would have to align to change that rule. Even if they did, all 50 would have to vote for the voting rights and ethics bill, considering that no Republican is expected to back it.
Manchin said instead that he would support passage of another bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore federal oversight over state-level voting law changes to protect minority groups that might be targeted. He cited one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as a supporter of the measure.
But he is still far short of the 60-vote threshold he backs to pass even that bill.
“I continue to engage with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about the value of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and I am encouraged by the desire from both sides to transcend partisan politics and strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights,” Manchin wrote.
Democratic senators greeted Manchin’s words incredulously. The senator has made similar points before, but doing it in writing in West Virginia carried new weight.
“His fidelity and allegiance to the people of West Virginia is beyond question,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Sunday. “But I hope that he will recognize equally the responsibility that each of us has to the nation, and we face an unprecedented threat to voting rights and democracy.”
Manchin’s opposition to ending the filibuster and backing strictly Democratic bills could have implications beyond voting rights. He supported the pandemic relief bill this year, which passed on party lines, but Democratic leaders are considering passing other measures under reconciliation, including an infrastructure bill that will most likely top $1 trillion.
Manchin declined to say how he would vote on a party-line infrastructure bill, saying that a bipartisan group of senators negotiating a deal that could get at least 60 votes are “not that far apart.”
“I still have all the confidence in the world,” Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re going to get there. My goodness, the president has gone from $2.25 trillion down to $1 trillion. The Republicans have come up quite a bit from where they started.”
He was firm on the voting rights bill, saying that passing it on a party-line vote would further divide the country, which is seeing state after state pass party-line voting restrictions where Republicans control the legislature and governor’s office.
“I think it’s the wrong piece of legislation to bring our country together,” Manchin said. “I don’t want to be in a country that’s divided any further than I’m in right now.”
“I’m not being naive,” Manchin insisted, acknowledging that Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, has vowed to block Biden’s agenda. “We’d be a lot better if we had participation, and we’re getting participation, but when it comes time to a final vote … ”
He trailed off.
He also suggested that Senate Democrats were partially responsible for the current dilemma on the filibuster in the Senate, noting that it was the majority leader at the time, Harry Reid of Nevada, who first removed parts of the filibuster in 2013.
“What goes around comes around here; they all understand that,” Manchin said. “And there were 33 Democrats in 2017 that signed a letter to ‘please save the filibuster and save our democracy.’ That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Democrats pushed back on that suggestion, saying the erosion of support for the filibuster on their side of the aisle stemmed from the abuse of the rule by Republicans. That was capped by a Republican filibuster late last month of a bipartisan commission to investigate the origins and implications of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.
Senate Democrats have already had passionate closed-door meetings about the voting rights bill, going state by state through restrictions on voting access either enacted already or making their way through Republican-held legislatures. So far, they have resisted breaking up the For the People Act and passing less partisan measures, like the ethics provisions meant to block profiteering off the presidency and opening the business interests of presidents and vice presidents to more public scrutiny.
Blumenthal said if Manchin is firm, conversations about legislative strategy will pick up steam.
“We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said.
“These measures are about ending campaign finance corruption and political self-aggrandizement in a way that is fundamental to preserving our democracy, along with preserving access to the franchise, which is central to our democracy,” he added. “Maybe there will be choices ahead, but we need to be very careful about the sacrifices that could be made if we rethink too radically what For the People contains.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.