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Voting rights fight does new damage to Manchin's governing model

As Senate Republicans again discredit Joe Manchin's preferred governing model, what is he prepared to replace it with?

When Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition to the For the People Act, the conservative Democrat at least remained committed to the underlying issue. As regular readers may recall, the West Virginian effectively argued that his party's democracy-reform package was too ambitious and too partisan to advance, but he could craft a compromise bill that would address many of the same issues.

And to his credit, Manchin followed through, unveiling a blueprint that would serve as the basis for the Freedom to Vote Act. Way back in June, he described his behind-the-scenes legislative efforts to reporters:

"I've been talking to Stacey [Abrams], you know I talked to everybody. And I've been working across the aisle with all the Republicans trying to get people to understand that that's the bedrock of our democracy, an accessible, fair, and basically secured voting."

Asked in mid-September about his plan for success, Manchin said, "It's to get 10 Republicans." He added that he was talking to "reasonable Republicans and friends of mine who understand we need guardrails."

In October, Manchin added, "We're negotiating with Republicans in good faith and we'll see what happens."

We've now seen what happened. For the fifth time this Congress, the Senate brought voting rights protections to the floor. For the fifth time, Senate Republicans blocked the efforts.

Manchin said four months ago that his plan was to "get 10 Republicans." In the end, literally zero Republicans voted for the bills Manchin supported.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, Congress' most conservative Democrat is an enthusiastic proponent of a governing model. Like it or not, the West Virginian believes the best way — in many instances, the only way — for Congress to approve worthwhile legislation is to embrace a cooperative, bipartisan approach.

Indeed, the Freedom to Vote Act offered the latest in a series of classic case studies that tested the merits of Manchin's model — offering the West Virginian an opportunity to prove that his approach is an effective legislative method. There were concessions. There was a compromise. There was sincere bipartisan outreach over the course of months. There were offers, listening sessions, and a slow, deliberate process.

We don't need to change the Senate's filibuster rules, Manchin has said, we simply need well-intentioned officials to sit down, talk, listen, and reach responsible agreements.

And in the end, not even one Senate Republican broke party ranks.

If this sounds familiar, it's not your imagination. The same thing happened on the measure to create an independent Jan. 6 commission. And immigration. And policing reforms. And a Covid-relief package. And now voting rights.

Or put another way, Manchin's model is predicated on the idea that GOP senators are members of a governing party, which will work in a serious way on policymaking. What Republicans keep telling Manchin is that they're not who he thinks they are.

Now that the GOP has discredited Manchin's preferred model, what is he prepared to replace it with?