On the eve of the Senate vote on a voting rights bill, former president Barack Obama offered his support to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s scaled back version of the voting rights legislation pushed by the centrist Democrat as an attempt to gain Republican support for the measure. Manchin angered many Democrats with his continued opposition to the more expansive version of the For the People Act that aims to tackle everything how elections are administered, ranging from public financing to ending partisan gerrymandering. But, despite having to swallow some unfavorable provisions like ID requirements and state voter roll purges, many Democrats have warmed to the idea of the Manchin compromise, mostly because it’s all they’ve got. Key voting rights voice Stacey Abrams got on board last week and, on Monday, Obama offered his support for the Manchin version of the bill.
Manchin’s compromise includes a bunch of Democratic priorities, including automatic voter registration, making Election Day a holiday, a mandatory minimum of 15 early voting days for federal elections, a prohibition on partisan gerrymandering and, while it strengthens voter ID requirements, it includes several pathways for voters to prove their identity. Obama, on a call with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was positive about Manchin’s bipartisanism, characterizing the revisions as an effort by “the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, or maybe in Congress —Joe Manchin of West Virginia—to come up with common sense reforms that a majority of Americans agree with, that Democrats and Republicans can agree with.”
That is, of course, giving Republicans a lot of credit to act in good faith, a political instinct that has not always served Obama well. The bill, after passing through the House, is up for a vote in the Senate Tuesday and is almost certain to fail to get the 10 Republicans needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. In fact, it still might not get any Republican support at all—no matter what Manchin adds or strips, which means it likely won’t even pass the barest of procedural hurdles sending it to the floor for debate.
“Right now at least, Republicans in the Senate are lining up to try to use the filibuster to stop the For the People Act from even being debated,” Obama said. “They are suddenly afraid to even talk about these issues and figure out solutions on the floor of the Senate. They don’t even want to talk about voting. And that is not acceptable.” Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, who is now the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, offered optimism on the future of the voting rights bill on the call. “Despite what you may have heard, we believe there is a path forward for this bill to get passed,” Holder said. It’s not clear where that optimism is coming from, but there you go.