All 50 Senate Democrats voted to move forward to a debate Tuesday on S. 1, the “For the People Act,” in an unusual display of party loyalty that was met by equal party unity on the Republican side.
In technical terms, Democrats made a motion to invoke cloture to overcome a silent Republican filibuster of a motion to proceed to debate the legislation. In other words, without actually talking on the Senate floor, Republicans successfully blocked the bill from even moving toward a floor debate. Under Senate rules in place since 1975, 60 votes are needed for cloture. The motion fell 10 votes short of 60.
A yes vote from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was significant, won as a result of weeks of negotiations. In talks that continued through the past weekend, Manchin agreed to a new set of voting rights reforms that went beyond what he had previously entertained, congressional sources who were involved told The Intercept.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters that if Republicans had agreed to move forward, Manchin’s amendment would have been the first up for debate. Manchin continues to tell colleagues that he hopes to find 10 Republican votes to move forward with his legislation, though so far he has only gotten Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to express general support for a voting rights bill.
Manchin’s legislation is still being negotiated and will include new provisions to counter Republican takeovers of election boards, a source involved said. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Tuesday she was still in talks with Manchin over a number of provisions. Manchin wants to mandate voter ID, which Klobuchar and other Democrats oppose. Manchin’s version also requires all states to allow mail-in and early voting but does away with no-excuse absentee balloting.
In a statement Tuesday, Manchin said his compromise requires disclosure of any political spending above $10,000. It would also ban partisan gerrymandering, a key goal for Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate committee that held hearings on the measure, said that the public push for S. 1 would continue over the next several weeks. With 50 Democrats on board for some significant voting rights reform, the question will be whether Manchin agrees to reforms to the filibuster once he concludes that there are nowhere near 10 Republicans willing to go along.
“This is not a finalized proposal, but when you read it, you will see the good-faith effort he has put into it, and it’s not like one of those things where he just puts it out there and we start negotiating,” Klobuchar said. “We’re very far along.”
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who has been in talks with Manchin, said that the two hadn’t ironed out every difference but that they were moving in that direction. “The important thing is we’re all on the same bill. There’ll be amendments, and Democrats are united around this idea that this is a definitive moment in which we have to protect the sacred right to vote,” Warnock said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he expected text of the Manchin substitute to be released “very, very soon.”
“We’re driving toward consensus, and I think we will get there,” said Blumenthal.
Ahead of the vote, Manchin, who had recently published an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail headlined “Why I am voting against the For the People Act,” released a statement explaining why he would now be voting to move forward on it.
“Over the past month, I have worked to eliminate the far reaching provisions of S.1, the For the People Act — which I do not support,” the statement reads. “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.”
Voting to move to debate would allow Republicans and Democrats to offer amendments, Manchin said — the type of legislating he often elevates as the goal of the Senate.
“Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues refused to allow debate of this legislation despite the reasonable changes made to focus the bill on the core issues facing our democracy,” Manchin said in his statement, expressing the kind of frustration Democrats have long said is key to winning his support to reform the filibuster.
The final showdown over the filibuster is likely to come in late July, once it becomes clear that the new version of S. 1 has no serious Republican support. The argument will be helped along if bipartisan infrastructure talks, which have hit a logjam over the fundamental question of financing and taxes, have collapsed by then.