Sentiment was subdued to start the new week with headlines generally centered on Janet Yellen’s first diplomatic foray (and the attendant G-7 economic plan), forthcoming inflation data and Joe Manchin, whose Op-Ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail drew sharp criticism from Democrats.
Manchin won’t support legislation designed to curb some states’ voter suppression efforts, a decision he (unironically) said stemmed from his desire to strengthen democracy.
“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act,” he wrote.
I thought we’d reached “peak Manchin” in April. Apparently I was wrong.
The sheer, blatant absurdity of citing a weakening democracy in voting against a bill aimed at stopping states from suppressing the vote wasn’t lost on Manchin, I’m sure, but for many, it was too much to stomach. “Manchin’s Op-Ed might as well be titled ‘Why I’ll vote to preserve Jim Crow,’” Mondaire Jones said, in a tweet.
“Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized,” Manchin said, adding that,
Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.
As such, congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.
Try as Manchin (or anyone else) might, it’s difficult to escape the reality that some state lawmakers are engaged in a rather transparent attempt to curtail voting rights. If the right to vote is sacrosanct in America — if the country believes the franchise shouldn’t be hampered for anyone who can check the legal boxes when it comes to establishing their right to vote in an election — then efforts to curtail those rights should be stymied. It’s just that simple.
That Manchin would cite democracy in not supporting his own party’s legislation aimed at ensuring voting rights aren’t eroded by sleight of hand is disingenuous, at best.
For good measure, Manchin went on to say, in writing, that he “will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”
Manchin now stands to undermine key White House initiatives unless the “other” Joe can somehow talk him out of what, by now, has morphed into an almost pathological desire to play spoiler to his own party’s agenda in the name of preserving the “integrity” of the Senate. It might be a little late for that. I’m not sure there’s much “integrity” left.
Note that, as The New York Times put it, Manchin “has effectively given Republicans veto power, saying he does not oppose the substance of the [voting rights] legislation, only its lack of bipartisan support.”
That’s ludicrous. There’s a time and a place for principled commitment to bipartisanship. But I’m not sure “I like the concept of voter participation, but only if at least one Republican does too” is a tenable position at a time when folks are increasingly prone to street protests against anything that can be linked to the marginalization of underserved communities or institutionalized racism.
Unfortunately, Manchin’s Op-Ed at times resembled propaganda. For example, he asked,
Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump because of actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?
Yes. And yes. Sorry, Joe. With one high-profile exception (Liz Cheney) Republicans have either gone silent on the events of January 6, toned down their criticism of Donald Trump’s role, or else reversed their stance altogether. It’s true that a handful of GOPers will, when asked, reiterate their disdain for the former president. But the vast majority of Republicans would rather just not talk about it. (I wouldn’t want to talk about it either, if I were them.)
But that’s not even the problem with Manchin’s deflection. The problem is that… well, is that it’s a deflection. It doesn’t matter what a given senator thinks about Trump or how a given lawmaker voted during his (second) impeachment.
Obviously, this bill is inextricably bound up with the 2020 election (voter suppression efforts in various states are largely a response to Trump’s loss), but pointing to the guy or gal across the aisle and saying “Well, he doesn’t support this bill, and he voted to impeach, so clearly his motives are pure,” is an absurd attempt (by Manchin) to engineer plausible deniability.
Manchin supports another voting rights bill (The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act) with Lisa Murkowski providing cover.
Ironically, the “better” (and the scare quotes are there for a reason) argument for Manchin is probably just to parrot some version of the Republican line or to call the bill what it is. As the Times put it,
The House and Senate versions of the For the People Act were always something of a legislative Hail Mary. Republicans labeled it a Democratic power grab, and even some members of the Congressional Black Caucus worried its prohibition on partisan gerrymandering would end up costing Black representation in the South.
There’s some plausible deniability buried in there, if that’s what Manchin is looking for. Something like this: “Well, obviously our hearts are in the right place, but this is kinda Hail Mary-ish, and if we can, you know, huddle up and strip out [XYZ], then I’ll take another look.”
Instead, Manchin appears keen to wield what amounts to a veto over his own party’s agenda — again. This is a pattern.
I’m sure that’s satisfying for him and maybe the folks in West Virginia are into it, but it feels a bit like circuitous self-aggrandizing. And now it’s coming at the expense of people’s right to vote.