Two weeks ago, Senator Joe Manchin published a commentary in the Charleston Gazette-Mail newspaper explaining his opposition to the For the People Act and his support for continuing the filibuster.
Those were not new positions for Manchin. He had already said in multiple interviews that he thought the federal elections bill was too broad and had only partisan support, and his backing of the filibuster goes back years.
Manchin may have believed that codifying his positions on these highly controversial topics would put the issue to rest. As we know, it did not. In fact, it set off a fire storm of criticism from fellow Democrats and interest groups.
Manchin never minds being in the middle of the fray, but I suspect even he was caught off guard by the vitriol directed his way. Democrats who support the For the People Act wanted to know not only why Manchin was against the bill, but what he supported.
The Senator responded with a list of election changes that he would back. In true Manchin fashion, his plan is a compromise intended to draw both Democrats and Republicans to the bargaining table.
That is not going to happen.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the proposal almost immediately on the grounds that it is not Congress’s responsibility to tell the states how to run their elections. “There is no rational basis for the federal government to take over all of American elections,” McConnell said.
Here is another way to read that: After Republicans were called racists for not supporting the For the People Act, there was no way they were going to buy into anything that even vaguely resembled the original bill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to bypass Manchin’s compromise and instead call a vote next week to bring the For the People Act to the floor, even though he knows the bill cannot get the 60 votes necessary to pass.
And here is how to read that: Schumer will get Republicans on the record opposing a bill that Democrats believe is an important issue for them in 2022.
Manchin truly believes in bipartisanship, and he’s supremely confident—probably overly confident—in his ability to bring together Republicans and Democrats on any issue. Maybe that play will work with an infrastructure bill, and Manchin is a member of the bipartisan group working on that.
However, the elections bill has become a political litmus test for the base of each party. Manchin’s proposal is a practical alternative, but there is no political middle ground to be had.