Maybe Manchin Should Rethink Handing McConnell Veto Power Over... Everything
Was Miss McConnell laughing at Manchin today? Or was he actually laughing at all of us? Miss, to reporters who asked him about supporting the strengthening of the Voting Rights Act by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act: "There's no threat to the voting rights law. It's against the law to discriminate in voting based on race already. And so I think it's unnecessary." That's a bold-faced lie and McConnell is as aware of that as anyone else is. In fact, perpetrating that lie is part of Republican Party strategy.
So... yeah, McConnell is against voting rights. Someone, please, get me my smelling salts! I bet Manchin could change McConnell's mind in two seconds flat, just by telling him to retract that little statement and announce he's going to support it or that he (Manchin) will vote to reform the filibuster in all matters pertaining to voting rights. Manchin won't do that-- nor would Sinema. I think Biden-- if he wanted to-- would have an easier time persuading Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, maybe even Romney to do so than Manchin or Sinema.
Alan Grayson, who just launched a Senate race for the Florida seat held by notorious obstructionist Marco Rubio, offered a quote from Thomas Paine that indicates where he's going to line up when issues like this hit the Senate: "It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance."
Murkowski said she will vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and both Collins and Romney have indicated that they are considering it. Unless Manchin plays hardball with McConnell, is will never pass because there aren't 10 Republicans who will vote cloture on anything McConnell filibusters. Yesterday, Ed Kilgore explained the purpose of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and how it differs from S-1, both of which McConnell is opposing and the former of which Manchin supports, while opposing the latter:
The John Lewis Act aims to restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 on grounds that they were obsolete. While a previous version of the legislation passed the House in 2019, it never secured a vote in the then-Republican Senate. A new version of the bill is under development by the Congressional Black Caucus, which is again updating the provisions the Court found fault with, to ensure the bill will pass judicial muster if enacted. Its sponsors estimate the bill will be introduced in late June or in July.
Descriptions of the two pieces of legislation are often boiled down to the For the People Act as broad and the John Lewis Act as narrow. That’s true, but the bigger difference is that H.R. 1/S. 1 is a highly prescriptive bill preempting state voting and election laws, mandating many practices (e.g., automatic and same-day voter registration and easily available early voting) and prohibiting many others (e.g., unnecessary voter-roll purges and partisan gerrymandering).
The John Lewis Act, like the original Voting Rights Act it restores, creates procedural rules governing voting-rights violations. Section 2 (which was left alone by the Court) creates a cause of action in court for private parties or the federal government to challenge voting or election laws that are intended to, or have the effect of, diluting minority voting rights. The far more powerful Sections 4 and 5 created a system whereby jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory practices would have to submit changes in voting and election laws and procedures to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department for review and “preclearance” as non-discriminatory before they could take effect. It was Section 4, setting up a formula for determining which jurisdictions fell under the Section 5 preclearance requirement, that the Court killed. A new Court-proof Section 4, with updated data on discriminatory practices, is the principal purpose of the John Lewis Act.
Here’s where Manchin’s wrinkle comes in: He proposes that the preclearance requirement simply be applied to all 50 states (while Section 4 was in place, the VRA applied to nine ex-Confederate states and scattered cites or counties in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota). That would have the advantage of avoiding the problems that led the Court to strike down Section 4 as unfair to supposedly reformed southern states, and would also finesse the political disadvantages of choosing between discriminatory and non-discriminatory jurisdictions. But there could be some offsetting logistical issues with forcing every voting and election procedure change in America to undergo DOJ review. There’s a reason (paralyzing the whole system) the 50-state “solution” used to be favored routinely by southern opponents of the VRA itself.
As indicated earlier, many of the provisions in the state Republican-enacted voter-suppression laws popping up after the 2020 election would be flatly (and retroactively) prohibited by H.R. 1/S. 1. The John Lewis Act would simply stop future laws and procedural changes from taking effect without a Justice Department preclearance. It’s hard to know exactly which laws and procedural changes would and would not pass muster, and it’s worth considering that a future Republican administration might very well reverse pro-voting-rights guidance set down by the Biden administration.
But without question, the John Lewis Act would slow down, and might well inhibit, voter-suppression activity. Indeed, in a 50-state preclearance world, it would likely take a very large increase in funding for the Civil Rights Division to keep preclearance reviews from freezing current voting and election rules in place for a significant period of time.
The premise of Manchin’s argument is that because the Voting Rights Act was last extended (in 2006, seven years before the Court gutted it) by a unanimous Senate vote and a Republican president (George W. Bush), legislation that would restore it should command considerable bipartisan support. The trouble is, it doesn’t. When the bill passed the House in 2019, only one Republican (Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania) voted for it. Only one Republican senator (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) co-sponsored the legislation then, or has announced support for it going forward.
Perhaps there is reason for Manchin to think that killing the John Lewis Act would be marginally more embarrassing to the GOP than killing the For the People Act, given the party’s past support for the VRA. But there’s little doubt Republicans will find a way to justify doing it in, by either (a) taking the Supreme Court’s position a bit further and arguing racial discrimination in voting simply no longer exists, or (b) arguing any voting-rights legislation must include “election integrity” provisions addressing their (and Trump’s) phony-baloney fraud claims. “Whataboutism” has become the standard Republican excuse for refusing to do the right thing. And Manchin almost certainly knows that by now, which is why my colleague Jonathan Chait concludes that his arguments are incoherent.
An an OpEd for the San Francisco Chronicle today, No, Joe Manchin, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act isn't enough, Erwin Chemerinsky and Dennis Aftergut wrote that the bill is "far from sufficient to curtail the GOP’s anti-democratic ambitions." One thing I find disturbing-- and that I hope can be remedied-- is that "the Lewis Act would only apply going forward; it would not reverse the voter suppression laws in Georgia, Texas and other states recently adopted." So far, states that have already passed heinous voter suppression laws, besides Texas and Georgia, are Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Utah, Kansas and, of course Wyoming.