Senate Republicans spent months praising Joe Manchin for his insistence on cross-party compromise. Next week they will almost surely end his hopes for a bipartisan deal on elections.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed all 50 Republicans would oppose Sen. Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) slimmed-down elections compromise, which focuses on expanding early voting and ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections. And it’s not clear there’s a single Republican vote to even begin debate on the matter, potentially dooming Manchin’s proposals before they can even make it into the bill.
Both Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said they would likely oppose a procedural vote next week that would bring Democrats’ massive elections reform bill to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Senate could amend the bill to adopt Manchin’s changes. But Romney said supporting that strategy “doesn’t make a lot of sense to me” and Murkowski said “Joe hasn’t briefed me on any of this.”
“It needs to be blocked,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who praised Manchin last week for “saving our country” in encouraging bipartisanship. “I’m not optimistic that they could make enough changes to that to make it a fair bill. It would usurp the rights of the states.”
The apparent blanket Republican opposition to bringing Democrats’ legislation to the floor and potentially amending it — as the Senate’s swingiest vote desires — moves the voting rights debate to a new phase. Schumer told Democrats at a Thursday caucus meeting that the vote on the elections bill will be Tuesday, June 22, according to a source familiar with the meeting. That bill will need 60 votes to proceed over a filibuster.
Manchin had long sought an approach that had input from Republicans and one that he could support, but it’s become apparent there is no road to a bipartisan compromise on election legislation. He said his opposition wasn’t just because there was no GOP support, but also because Democrats’ changes to help publicly finance elections, for example, went too far for him.
“They got confused thinking ‘the only reason you’re against it is because there’s no Republicans.’ That’s not it at all. I think it should be bipartisan. I think it’s a dangerous thing to do something that monumental” on party lines, Manchin said on Wednesday after he rolled out some of his changes. “The other thing is there were some things, being a former secretary of state and governor, that just didn’t make sense.”
Murkowski has joined Manchin on a proposal to re-up the Voting Rights Act, but that legislation will wait until the fall. And that leaves Congress in a deadlock, infuriating progressives.
Manchin is also among a group of Democrats opposed to gutting the filibuster to install elections law changes, leaving no partisan road map either in a 50-50 Senate where Democrats would need every single vote to make changes on party lines. That group of filibuster-repeal skeptics may shrink after next week’s vote on the so-called For the People Act, with several Democrats saying the GOP’s rejection of that bill could change their minds.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who has led the GOP opposition to the elections bill because of its federalized approach to state elections, said “every one of us works for opportunities to work with Sen. Manchin.” But he added that when “Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Sen. Manchin’s proposal, it became the Stacey Abram’s substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute.”
“I’m not opposed to Joe. Joe does a great job of trying to figure out: ‘OK, where can I get a middle ground on this.’ I have no issue with Joe,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “This is just, philosophically we disagree that we should go take over everything in every election.”
The massive wave of Republican opposition does not come as a surprise to most Democrats. Schumer said this week that he was “befuddled” by those that think a bipartisan solution is possible, voicing clear skepticism of Manchin’s hopes.
“I’m not that optimistic about Republican votes,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who pushed Manchin to detail his objections with the election bill. “Only a handful of Republicans voting for the nonpartisan commission to analyze what happened on Jan. 6, I can’t imagine you’re going to get more than that for voting rights.”
Still, more work could happen behind the scenes. Earlier this week, Manchin convened a meeting on elections with his Republican colleagues. And if that ever births a new piece of legislation, some of Manchin’s allies aren’t ruling out action entirely.
“If there is an effort that Joe Manchin leads and he gets a group together on a bipartisan election reform provision I’m happy to work on that or consider it,” Romney said. “But that hasn’t happened yet.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.