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Democrats woo Manchin on major voting bill in bid to win unified party support

Senate Democrats are engaged in a quiet courtship of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin in an effort to garner unified party support for a sweeping elections overhaul bill despite the long odds that enough Republicans will ever back its passage.

The hope, Democrats say, is to create a clear contrast with Republicans over the issue of voting access in America, with party leaders fearing that a Manchin defection would undercut their political argument over an issue central to their agenda. Behind the scenes, conversations have picked up steam in recent days to win over Manchin, their lone holdout, who has faced withering criticism from the left over his refusal to back the bill.

On Wednesday, Manchin left open the option that he could support a modified bill after previously opposing the drafted legislation. He said he’s open to backing several of the provisions in the so-called For the People Act, including declaring Election Day a public holiday, expanding early voting to at least 15 consecutive days and banning partisan gerrymandering.

But in return for his crucial support, Manchin wants to require identification to vote, which many progressives view as discriminatory toward racial minorities but which Republicans see as essential to deterring potential voter fraud. Manchin, too, has tried to woo Republicans to back a compromise effort, holding a Monday teleconference call with several GOP senators even though the prospects of winning 60 votes in the 50-50 Senate are extremely dire.

Manchin has long said that he believes any changes of this magnitude must also have the backing of Republicans. But on Wednesday, the West Virginia Democrat didn’t go that far when asked if he’d be open to a revised bill that lacked the support of the GOP.

“We need a good bill that basically protects voters, protects states and protects states’ rights,” Manchin, a former West Virginia secretary of state, told CNN. “A good voting bill has to be accessible. It has to be fair. It has to be secure.”

The Senate Democratic Caucus is meeting Thursday to discuss the issue further — ahead of a crucial test vote expected next week.

Manchin believes that only bipartisan legislation can last in Washington, and has told others that he believes he can secure Republican support for the bill.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics,” Manchin’s office said in a memo obtained by CNN. “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.”

But it’s highly unlikely that 10 Republican senators will join Democrats in passing the bill. When the House passed its version of the legislation in March, every Republican voted against it.

Manchin said, “No, I’m not confident” that Democratic leaders will make the changes he’s proposed.

“I owe it to them to let them know” of his proposals, Manchin said. “I made the statement that I could not support the bill in its present form. I owe it to them and I’ve done that.”

Among the other changes Manchin has proposed are to require states to send absentee mail ballots to voters if they are unable to vote in person due to an “eligible circumstance.”

The West Virginia Democrat had previously pushed for his party to pass a different voting rights bill, known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. That legislation would renew a part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had blocked certain jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination from changing their voting rules up until 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled the formula used by the Justice Department unconstitutional.

Manchin noted the bill named after the late Georgia congressman had the support of Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and floated on Wednesday proposals aimed at more Republicans, including decreasing the attorney general’s authority to determine voting right violations and creating “objective measures” in identifying patterns of discrimination.

A handful of Senate Democrats have been working with Manchin for several weeks to try to address his concerns. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York met with other moderate Democrats on Tuesday and signaled that members should not try to pressure Manchin to support of the legislation.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine told CNN that the goal is to get “50 out of 50 Democrats”; otherwise Republicans could claim there is bipartisan opposition to the bill.

“Manchin is the person,” said Kaine. “He’s been real cooperative in laying out his specific concerns and we’re trying to address them.”

“Look, he was the secretary of state in West Virginia, so he knows voting issues,” Kaine added. “He’s never said that he would vote against a good bill.”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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