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Civil rights groups also can't budge Joe Manchin on voting rights

The good news is, the conservative Democrat was willing to sit down with prominent civil rights leaders. The bad news is, they couldn't change his mind.

It's become a parlor game of sorts on Capitol Hill: figuring out who can persuade Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to help protect voting rights from a dramatic Republican assault.

The good news is, the conservative Democrat was willing to sit down with prominent civil rights leaders -- including the heads of the NAACP and the National Urban League -- who hoped to convey to Manchin just how serious the current threat to our democracy is. The bad news is, the dialog apparently didn't work. Roll Call reported late yesterday:

Manchin was unmoved on his opposition to the broader bill Tuesday after what those present described as a constructive morning meeting with a group of influential civil rights leaders. "There was nothing basically for or against.... Basically, everyone's position was discussed," Manchin told reporters after the meeting.

Asked if the discussion affected his position at all, Manchin replied, "No, I don't think anybody changed positions on that."

A Washington Post report added, "According to interviews with several of the civil rights leaders who participated, the discussion was indeed courteous and substantive. But they said it produced little meaningful progress in bridging the gulf between the advocates, who consider the spate of GOP state laws as an assault on American democracy, and Manchin, who has said that any change to federal voting laws must be done in cooperation with Republicans."

Also yesterday, Senate Democrats met for their weekly caucus lunch, which reportedly included a "frank and candid" discussion about voting rights legislation. (As Congress watchers know, that's generally a euphemism for a meeting featuring excessive shouting and profanity.)

Reporters asked Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) whether Manchin addressed his Democratic colleagues during the meeting. "He wasn't there," Durbin said. "I didn't see him."

As the process continues to unfold, it's worth remembering that there are two bills to keep an eye on, and three ways to pass them.

On the legislative front, there's the For the People Act, which is an expansive democracy-reform package, and there's the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is designed to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in response to Supreme Court conservatives gutting it in 2013.

They both relate to voting rights, but they're not the same thing. Manchin intends to help Republicans kill the former, but he supports the latter.

But that support will prove meaningless if the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is derailed by a GOP filibuster. So how do pro-voting advocates get the bill across the finish line? There are really only three options:

  1. Find 10 Senate Republicans willing to push back against their own party's anti-voting crusade and support the Democratic legislation.
  2. Carve out an exception to the Senate's existing filibuster rules and pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act in an up-or-down vote.
  3. Eliminate the Senate's existing filibuster rules, return the institution to its majority-rule roots, and pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act in an up-or-down vote.

(A possible fourth is that Democratic leaders attach the Voting Rights Advancement Act to some other bill, but that's probably a long shot.)

Either one of those three scenarios happen, or Congress does nothing to protect voting rights and our democracy suffers. It's as simple as that.