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McConnell smacks away compromise offer on voting rights

Mitch McConnell wasted no time in smacking away the Freedom to Vote Act. It leaves Democrats with an important decision to make.


Three months ago, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the For the People Act, but he nevertheless tried to be constructive. The conservative Democrat said while he couldn't back his party's democracy-reform package, he could support a compromise measure to protect voting rights, and he released a blueprint designed to garner bipartisan backing.

By and large, Democrats were amenable to Manchin's proposal. Republicans were not: About a day later after the senator unveiled his proposal, Senate GOP leaders rejected it out of hand.

Yesterday, Congress' minority party was even more efficient. Senate Democrats unveiled their Freedom to Vote Act in the morning, and by the afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had already told reporters that Republicans will not support it. Politico reported:

... McConnell called the legislation 'a solution in search of a problem' and promised that Republicans 'will not be supporting it,' dooming its chances unless the Senate changes its rules.

The Kentucky Republican added, "This is not something that the federal government has been historically involved in for good reason."

As a factual matter, the criticisms were plainly wrong: The legislation simply creates a floor that states could not drop below, but states would still be able to establish their own election procedures.

For that matter, for about half a century, the Voting Rights Act ensured that the federal government was very much "involved in" elections — and McConnell used to support the law.

And while we're at it, McConnell may pretend not to notice the "problem" with threats to the franchise, but the problem is painfully real whether he acknowledges it or not.

Nevertheless, the GOP leader's position leaves Democrats with some decisions to make. For his part, Manchin apparently intends to keep looking for 10 Republicans who'll ignore McConnell and support the voting rights legislation. The West Virginian even met directly with McConnell yesterday.

It's tempting to say, "Anything's possible," but in this case, I feel quite comfortable saying getting 10 GOP senators to vote for an ambitious voting rights bill is not, in reality, possible.

And what will happen when the Senate Democratic conference comes to this realization? Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock told Rachel on the show last night, "I've been very clear from day one that we must pass voting rights no matter what. Nothing is more important — certainly not a Senate rule."

Alluding to possible procedural changes, the Democrat, who helped write the Freedom to Vote Act, added, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

As for Manchin, asked yesterday what his plan is to get the bill passed, the West Virginian replied, "It's to get 10 Republicans."

Or put another way, the future of our democracy may very well hinge on whether Manchin voluntarily gives Republican opponents of voting rights veto power over voting rights legislation.

In early March, NBC News reported that Manchin was entirely committed to maintaining the Senate's existing filibuster rules, "but he added that he would be open to Democrats passing more important legislation like voting reforms by a party-line vote — if senators are given ample space for bipartisan negotiation first."

We'll soon find out whether he meant it.