Joe Manchin Giveth on Voting Rights—and Joe Manchin Taketh Away

Joe Manchin Giveth on Voting Rights—and Joe Manchin Taketh Away

Joe Manchin Giveth on Voting Rights—and Joe Manchin Taketh Away

The West Virginia senator has finally agreed to support critical voting rights legislation, but refuses to do what’s necessary to pass it.


The Democrats in the United States Senate have failed to pass either the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Both measures seek to restore voter protections that have been stripped away from people of color by either state legislatures or the Supreme Court. Both were passed by the House of Representatives. Neither has passed the Senate because Republicans oppose voting rights, while certain Democrats still love the filibuster. One Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin (D-Koch Brothers), opposes the For the People Act outright.

Since kidnapping Manchin and replacing him with a body double who cares about democracy is apparently not an option, Democrats have set out to appease him with a bill that gives him the power and attention he craves. This bill is the Freedom to Vote Act, which was introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday and has been endorsed by Manchin. The bill aims to protect people from state-level attempts to suppress the vote by providing minimum federal standards for early voting and mail-in ballots.

In some respects, the bill is better than the For the People Act when it comes to protecting voting rights. Democrats have benefited from watching Republican state legislatures show their hands and expose how they intend to legislate these rights away. The Freedom to Vote Act is therefore able to counteract some of these state Republican measures in a way that the For the People Act, introduced back in January, does not. Voting rights lawyer Marc Elias notes that the new bill deals specifically with Republican attempts to discard provisional ballots and challenge the qualification of eligible voters. He writes that the Freedom to Vote act “reflects a sobriety and understanding of the challenges facing voters that is worthy of its lofty name. It is not just a reformulation of the prior For the People Act, but in many places, it is an improvement.”

Unfortunately, Democrats can’t seem to improve something without ruining another thing in the name of compromise. For those wondering why the Freedom to Vote Act has earned Manchin’s support while the For the People Act did not, the answer most likely lies in what was left out of the new bill. Essentially all of the ethics rules that were part of the For the People Act (also known as HR 1) have been left out of the new legislation. The requirement that presidential and vice-presidential candidates submit 10 years of federal tax returns is gone. The prohibition against extending federal contracts to the current president or vice president is gone. The prohibition on spending federal money at businesses owned or operated by the president, vice president, cabinet officials, or their families, is gone. 

Apparently, in order to secure Manchin’s support for democracy, Democrats had to acquiesce to Manchin’s support for graft. 

We could debate whether this is a worthy trade: For my part, I suppose that allowing people of color to vote for corrupt politicians is preferable to not allowing people of color to vote at all. But that debate is pointless, because the Freedom to Vote Act has no more chance of becoming law than the For the People Act or any other measure aimed at securing democratic self-government. Republicans, once again, oppose voting rights, and Manchin, once again, refuses to break the filibuster even to pass his own legislation. 

The Freedom to Vote Act could have included a filibuster “carve-out.” That would have made it possible for this bill, or perhaps all bills addressing voting rights or federal elections, to be able to pass with a simple majority of votes in the Senate (a common feature of functional democracies) instead of a supermajority as required by our current system of white minority rule. 

But Princeps Senatus Manchin-max was having none of it. Instead, Manchin said on Monday: “The filibuster is permanent.”

That statement is demonstrably false. The budget reconciliation process is notably not subjected to the filibuster, something Manchin should know since he’s busy holding up that entire process right now. Indeed, his Republican allies have used a “filibuster carve-out” for years: Candidates to the Supreme Court are confirmed by a simple majority and cannot be filibustered. 

To recap: Republicans have gotten rid of the filibuster to appoint three judges to the Supreme Court who have voted in lockstep to take away voting rights, but Manchin will not get rid of the filibuster to restore those voting rights because Manchin thinks that the filibuster is an immutable feature of government. The hypocrisy of his stance would be hilarious if it weren’t being deployed to disenfranchise people of color. 

But nobody is ever going to hold Manchin accountable for his hypocrisy. Nobody is going to force him to answer for why he opposes ethics reform. Nobody is going to make him explain why Republicans should be able to get around the filibuster to confirm anti-choice, anti-voting, white justices, but Democrats can’t get around it to do the work of the American people. 

The Manchin compromise bill is a good bill for voting rights and a bad bill for government ethics that has no chance of passing because Manchin won’t do what is necessary to pass his own legislation. The dude basically objected to his meal, sent it back to the kitchen, made the cook take all the vegetables off his plate, and still won’t eat it, even though it’s now exactly what he says he wants. Petulant children are easier to work with than this man, because they have a more consistent worldview.

America isn’t a democracy right now; it’s a hostage scenario. Manchin is just toying with the Democrats who insist on negotiating with him. 

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