POLITICS

Senate Democrats Close To Agreement On Voting Rights Compromise

The bill is being crafted by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who opposed the original bill, and a group of Democrats.

Senate Democrats are nearing an agreement on a compromise version of their sweeping voting rights bill, the For The People Act, to be able to secure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the lone Democrat to oppose the original bill.

The coming agreement comes after months of negotiations to craft a compromise version of the bill, called S.1 in the Senate. The new deal is being crafted by a group of Democratic senators led by Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), along with the bill’s original co-sponsors Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Sens. Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Alex Padilla (Calif.), Angus King (Maine), Tim Kaine (Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.).

“The compromise on a new S. 1 is pretty close to being fully baked,” said a senior Democratic congressional aide with knowledge of the bill.

The compromise bill trims the original For The People Act to meet the outline of compromise legislation Manchin put forward in June, according to sources. It includes most of the voter access expansions and election administration provisions in the original bill, including mandatory early voting, automatic voter registration and other key voting rights elements that were originally taken from the late John Lewis’ Voter Empowerment Act. It also includes provisions limiting partisan gerrymandering, banning undisclosed “dark money” in elections and newer provisions on addressing so-called election subversion, among other, as yet undisclosed elements.

While the bill largely hews to Manchin’s original outline, including a loose form of voter identification, it will maintain some other elements from the original bill that were not included in Manchin’s June compromise outline, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations. Still, this new bill is now Manchin’s to sell and pass, as he has taken the lead on it.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) helped craft a compromise version of the For The People Act that he will now seek to pass the Senate.

The imminent announcement of a compromise bill comes ahead of the Senate’s return from its August recess break on Sept. 14 for a promised focus on voting rights. The steady passage of voter restrictions by Republicans in multiple states, all on the basis of Donald Trump’s election fraud lies that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, has made action on voting rights an imperative for most Democrats. The passage of the latest anti-voter law by Republicans in Texas on a party-line vote has intensified the push for federal voting rights legislation by Congress.

With the announcement of an agreement on the bill, the push to pass the For The People Act enters its final phase. The bill first passed the House in May on a near party-line vote, with one Democrat voting no. Republicans filibustered a vote to begin debate on the bill in June after Manchin first reached an agreement with Schumer to develop a compromise proposal to win his support. This solidified all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus in support of some version of the bill.

Immediately before the Senate went on break last month, Schumer sought to bring up the For The People Act for a vote only to be blocked for a second time by Republicans. Voting rights would be “the first matter of legislative business when the Senate returns to session in September,” Schumer said at the time.

After the first Republican filibuster of the bill, activists and state lawmakers from states where Republicans were passing new restrictions on voting mounted a nonstop campaign calling on the Senate to pass the bill and to change the Senate’s filibuster rules, which require 60 votes to both begin and end debate on most legislation, in order to do so. Democratic lawmakers from Texas flew into Washington to temporarily block their state legislature from passing onerous restrictions on voting. They were joined at rallies at the U.S. Capitol and in the halls of the Senate lobbying for voting rights bills by state lawmakers from other states like Arizona, Georgia and more. That advocacy will now kick back into gear, with a rally scheduled for Sept. 14 at the Senate.

The final push to pass the For The People Act, or whatever name Manchin’s compromise bill takes on, will begin in earnest when the Senate returns.

Manchin is reportedly already shopping his compromise proposal to Republicans in an attempt to bring ten of them along to break a filibuster, according to Politico. He has consistently stated that he believes Republicans can support a voting rights bill that looks like the compromise draft he put forward in June, especially since it includes a national voter identification requirement, something Republicans have long sought. The likelihood of Manchin finding any Republican support is, to put it lightly, low.

Schumer is likely to file for cloture on the compromise bill soon after the Senate returns, setting up a floor vote. Republicans will then be given the opportunity to block the bill for a third time. But this time, they will be blocking Manchin’s bill.

Activists pushed for the Senate to pass voting rights legislation during a wave of rallies and events during the 2021 summer. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Once his compromise bill is blocked, the debate over the filibuster that has been boiling all year long will really begin. That will mean confronting the opposition to changing the filibuster rules publicly expressed by both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Manchin stated this year both that he would never weaken the filibuster rules and that he would back a so-called “talking filibuster.” Sinema also stood by her opposition to changing the filibuster rules all year, but also stated her support for a caucus-wide debate on it in a Washington Post op-ed in June.

The question voting rights activists raise about Manchin is whether he would invest so much time and effort into crafting a compromise bill only to let his own opposition to changing a procedural rule destroy all the hard work. Why play the role of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) giving the thumbs down to tank his party’s top priority legislation when he co-wrote the bill? Less is known about Sinema’s position, but she is a co-sponsor of the bill and a vocal supporter of its policies.

The answer to that question is expected to come in October or even November, as the ongoing infrastructure and social program fight intervenes in the leadup to the Sept. 27 reconciliation deadline. But the full-fledged fight over voting rights, with the parties on opposite sides, one for voting rights and the other opposed, and whether a minority can filibuster to block the protection of those rights will now be had.