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Democrats searching for a path forward on stalled voting rights bill


Senate Democrats will huddle privately next week to continue their internal deliberations over how to advance a sweeping voting rights, government ethics and campaign finance bill that is one of their party’s top legislative priorities but is currently doomed to fail in the Senate because it is opposed by one of their own members as well as all 50 Republicans.

The Wednesday meeting, which was confirmed by a Senate Democratic aide, is a follow up to a session last week that left some Democratic senators concerned that significant changes to the bill are needed to bring around Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and attract at least 10 GOP senators to break a filibuster and make a law.

Democrats are anxious to pass the legislation to counteract new legislation in several Republican-led states that Democrats believe will curtail voting, particularly by minorities. The bill is titled the For the People Act but is known as S-1, a symbolically important designation as the first legislation introduced by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Similar legislation has already passed the Democratic-controlled House on a party line vote.

The measure was debated last week during a lengthy and contentious Senate Rules Committee hearing where it deadlocked in the evenly divided panel. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will be able to take procedural steps to put it on the floor but has not said when he would do that except that it will be before the August recess.

Manchin won’t say if he’ll vote to advance the bill to the floor even if he ultimately opposes it. If Schumer is unable to sway the West Virginia Democrat to back the bill, he may be forced to rethink his approach since Republicans would be able to argue there was bipartisan opposition to bill.

Manchin, a centrist from a red state, is standing against the bill because he thinks major changes to voting laws should be done with bipartisan support. He is also pushing for passage of a narrower voting rights bill to restore a requirement some states get federal approval — or preclearance — before making changes to voting laws after the Supreme Court in 2013 threw out part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Assuming they can convince Manchin to support the bill, some Democrats want to then weaken filibuster rules in order to pass the voting rights legislation. But that’s a step Manchin and other Democrats, notably Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, have said they would refuse to take.

It leaves Democrats and their top legislative priority stalled.

“S1 is very, very important to our Democracy. You cannot let millions of people’s rights be taken away,” Schumer said at a news conference this week. “Failure is not an option and everything will be on the table. We’re continuing to have discussions within the whole caucus.”

Meantime, Republicans are not showing any signs they will come to support the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriated Democrats’ voting rights package that he dubbed a “massive political takeover bill” in floor remarks on Thursday.

He argued the bill would not only “essentially make Washington Democrats the Board of Elections for every county and state in America” but it will also “narrow the protections of the First Amendment, it would empower the Feds with new authority to track and police the speech of Americans.”

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