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Manchin Is Showing He Considers Filibuster More Important Than Voting Rights

The senator was surprised about the January 6 commission filibuster, but he still wants bipartisanship on voting rights.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) speaks with journalists after the GOP blocked the January 6 commission through a procedural measure at the U.S. Capitol on May 28, 2021.

To Sen. Joe Manchin’s utter surprise, Senate Republicans killed the commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol attack on Friday, employing their first filibuster of this congressional session to do so. Next, Republicans are determined to use their minority rule to kill the Democrats’ crucial voting rights bill, and the West Virginia senator seems to be joining them in that mission.

The For the People Act, or S.1, is a bill that would make it easier for people to vote, bar partisan gerrymandering, revise campaign financing rules to remove areas prone to corruption, and more. It has been hailed time and time again over the past months as the only thing that Democrats can do to save the country from the state-level wave of anti-voting bills passed or in the process of being passed by Republicans — and to save democracy itself.

But passage of the For the People Act is currently being held up for several reasons in the Senate, all overlapping to some extent: Republicans, centrist Democrats including Manchin, and the filibuster.

Democratic senators are reportedly having trouble rallying up enough support for the bill, predictably, from Republicans, who will almost certainly use the filibuster against the bill. The GOP stands firmly against S.1 since they have made it clear that as a party they believe it should be harder to vote and that not everyone who can vote should be allowed to do so. The many voter suppression bills that Republicans have been passing in states under their control make that intent clear.

However, Democrats are also facing resistance from their fellow party members. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has been trying to unite all 50 Democratic senators in support of S.1, but Manchin is evidently against the bill, saying that it’s too broad.

Manchin has also insisted that the crucial voting rights bill should be bipartisan, though it is highly unlikely, given the GOP’s current overt stance on the issue, that Democrats could succeed in getting Republicans to sign on to any voting rights. Manchin hasn’t specified how he intends to rally bipartisan support for S.1, seemingly single handedly, but says that onlookers should have “faith” in the Senate.

The January 6 commission was also bipartisan — Democrats made a number of concessions to get Republicans on board — but despite that, the bill to form the commission was blocked by a Republican filibuster. Meanwhile, Manchin’s fellow defender of the filibuster, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) didn’t even show up for the vote.

After the January 6 commission’s formation was blocked on Friday, Manchin said he was disappointed. “Mitch McConnell makes it extremely difficult,” Manchin told reporters of the Kentucky senator. “I never thought I’d see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. And I’m going to fight to save this country.”

Many Democrats and progressives pointed out, however, that it is Manchin who is standing in the way of his party saving the country. As the Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey wrote after the commission vote was blocked, Manchin is “deeply disappointed in [the] GOP and prepared to do absolutely nothing” about it.

Progressives have pointed out that the problem almost entirely rests on the fact that Manchin refuses to get rid of the filibuster. “You can save this country, Joe, by ending the filibuster,” said University of California Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Indeed, as this congressional session has shown, all roads lead back to the filibuster — and Manchin’s strong support of it.

However, it’s not just Manchin who is standing in the way of Democrats’ passing important legislation. The New York Times reports that Manchin actually speaks for a small cohort of Democrats who are staying mum on the filibuster issue, likely hoping to avoid negative press.

But for Democrats hoping to end minority rule in the country, time is running out to fix our fragile democracy. There’s a small window for Democrats to nix minority rule in the country before the midterm elections next year. It’s just a question of whether they can change the minds of a few people to fix it.

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