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Why Democrats were desperate to win Joe Manchin’s vote for an already-doomed election bill

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

On Tuesday night, the “For the People” Act will fail.

There is a 0% chance that the sweeping election reform package pushed by Democratic leaders in the House and Senate in response to the moves in a series of Republican-controlled states to make it more difficult to vote will pass. In fact, it won’t even get an up-or-down final vote. The bill isn’t going to get the 60 votes it needs to end unlimited debate in the Senate, with every single one of the 50 Republican senators set to vote against it.

And yet, to read the coverage in advance of Tuesday’s fait accompli vote, you would think the future of the republic hinged on whether or not West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin voted to end unlimited debate on the legislation.

Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar said she “worked all weekend” to placate Manchin and win his vote. Manchin wants part of his slimmed-down election reform proposal, which is also going nowhere thanks to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, included in the package to secure his vote. (And, yes, either way, the package has zero chance of passing, which makes debating what’s included sort of, um, beside the point.)

It worked. On Tuesday afternoon, Manchin announced he would vote to proceed with the debate over an amended “For the People” Act. “I’ve found common ground with my Democratic colleagues on a new version of the bill that ensures our elections are fair, accessible and secure,” Manchin explained.

Why were Democrats SO focused on courting Manchin for a procedural vote that is doomed to fail? Simple: Politics.

See, now all 50 Democrats will vote to move forward with election reform legislation and all 50 Republicans are expected to oppose that move, Democrats can then go to their base ahead of the coming 2022 midterms and say something like: Every single Democrat wanted to make elections more fair and open. And every single Republican stood in opposition to that effort.

That’s the sort of thing — when coupled with the moves in GOP-controlled state legislatures around the country to restrict voting rights — that not only would motivate the Democratic base (an absolutely critical component in a midterm election) but also sway the small number of persuadable voters in districts and states around the country.

That argument, politically speaking, would be a LOT less powerful if Democrats had to say that all but one of their own voted to support election reform legislation, right? And so, to preserve the political potency of the issue for 2022, every influential Democrat did everything they could to get Manchin on board for Tuesday’s vote.

Now, like a lot of politics, this is all sort of a scam. Because Manchin has already said — very publicly — that he opposes the “For the People” Act without his changes. Wrote Manchin in an op-ed for the Charleston Gazette-Mail earlier this month:

“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 policy-making 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.”

So, even if the “For the People” Act got 60 votes to end debate on Tuesday, it was never going to pass anyway — because Manchin is on the record against it. Which makes the vote on Tuesday much ado about nothing or, if you prefer another literary cliche, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Democrats know they have already lost the legislative fight over the “For the People” Act — and likely the possibility of any sort of significant voting measure in this Congress. What Manchin’s vote does is preserve voting (and voting rights) as a potential 2022 issue.

Article Topic Follows: CNN-Opinion

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