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Manchin imagines voting rights bill that should pass unanimously

Sen. Joe Manchin can imagine a voting-rights bill that would pass the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. I wish he were right. He's not.


A group of Texas Democratic legislators didn't just flee their home state to block a vote on an odious voter-suppression bill, they also traveled to Washington, D.C., to plead for federal voting-rights protections.

With this in mind, the Texans have focused considerable attention on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who ostensibly supports voting rights, but who also opposes his party's legislation to protect the franchise. The conservative West Virginian also, of course, remains steadfast in his opposition to reforming the Senate's filibuster rules to allow a voting-rights bill to pass.

Yesterday, Manchin spent time with the Texas legislators. The good news is, the senator left the meeting saying he's in "total agreement" with their concerns. The bad news is, well, pretty much everything else.

After meeting with members of the Texas delegation, Manchin said the next step is to put together a pared-down bill that focuses solely on protecting the right to vote and the procedure of voting.

Congress' most conservative Democrat told reporters that he envisions a process in which senators "basically make a piece of legislation, one piece of legislation that protects the rights of voting, the procedure of voting, democracy, the guardrails on democracy, that's all. And there shouldn't be a Republican or Democrat should oppose it."

As for recent recommendations that the Senate consider a carve-out to the filibuster rules in order to allow Congress to protect voting rights, Manchin said yesterday that the institution "doesn't need" to make an exception, adding, "Forget the filibuster."

What we're left with is the broad outline of a plan: the West Virginian imagines a scenario in which senators craft a narrowly focused bill to protect democracy, with no extraneous provisions. Since, in Manchin's mind, both parties support voting rights, this hypothetical proposal "should" pass unanimously, easily overcoming a Republican filibuster.

I honestly don't understand what Manchin doesn't understand.

Exactly one month ago today, the conservative Democrat unveiled a new, compromise framework on voting rights, featuring elements designed specifically to address both parties' priorities. By and large, Democrats and other progressives were amenable to Manchin's proposal.

Republicans, however, wasted no time in killing it. Manchin unveiled his four-page proposal on a Wednesday afternoon, and by Thursday morning, Senate Republicans were tripping over themselves to condemn it. Literally zero GOP senators expressed even the slightest support for the compromise offer.

As we discussed soon after, Manchin genuinely seemed to believe that if he publicly rejected his own party's For the People Act proposal, worked on a compromise designed to meet the concerns of both parties, and engaged in good-faith outreach, Republican skeptics would be receptive and his entire approach to governance would be validated. His fellow Democrats may have unveiled a "partisan" proposal, but he'd show them -- and everyone else -- a better way.

Except it didn't work. His colleagues in the Republican Party -- the one that's systemically attacking the franchise everywhere they can, desperate to rig democracy in their favor -- slapped away his outstretched hand. GOP senators don't want to pass a voting-rights bill and wouldn't consider a compromise offer designed to make them happy.

And yet, there was Manchin yesterday, once again insisting that a narrowly tailored proposal -- such as the one he already unveiled -- could pass easily, evidently unfamiliar with a cliche: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

The West Virginian appears to be entirely sincere. He seems to believe that there's a hypothetical bill to protect voting rights that "should" pass easily. It leads to two inescapable questions:

1. Where is this bill?

2. If it exists, what will Manchin do when Republicans oppose it anyway?