Joe Manchin and voting rights.

The West Virginia senator just threw a curveball.
Isaac Saul Jun 8, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

We’re covering Joe Manchin’s opposition to The For the People Act. Plus, a question about abortion.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Photo: Third Way Think Tank

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Quick hits.

  1. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that thousands of people living in the U.S. for humanitarian reasons, and who entered illegally, are ineligible to apply to become permanent residents. (Associated Press)
  2. The Justice Department said it seized millions of dollars of ransom money in Bitcoin from Russian hackers who were paid off by the Colonial Pipeline after the hackers took down their computer system. (The New York Times, subscription)
  3. Capitol Police had specific intelligence warning of an armed invasion of the U.S. Capitol at least two weeks before January 6 riots, according to a new 127-page Senate report. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  4. Federal prosecutors have expanded their investigation into New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding COVID-related deaths in nursing homes. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  5. Former President Barack Obama appeared on CNN and lambasted Republicans for embracing the “falsehood that there were problems with” the 2020 election. (CNN)

What D.C. is talking about.

Joe Manchin. On Sunday, the West Virginia senator penned an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail announcing his opposition to H.R. 1/S. 1, also known as the For the People Act.

The bill, a sweeping federal voting rights act, was designed as the Democratic response to a wave of election legislation being pushed by Republican legislatures across the country. The For the People Act would require states to expand mail-in voting, mandate online same-day registration, require two weeks of in-person early voting, effectively nullify some voter ID requirements, institute new donor disclosure requirements for dark money, require the use of paper ballots, create a public financing system for campaigns and institute national commissions that take over the job of redistricting from state legislatures.

Manchin is a critical vote in the Senate — where Democrats have a tenuous 50-50 majority thanks to the tie breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. In his opinion piece, Manchin said “congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.”

Instead, he threw his support behind the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a narrower voting rights bill named after the late congressman, which would bolster protections in the Voting Rights Act that ensure certain groups don’t have their voting rights restricted.

Below, we’ll take a look at some reactions to Manchin’s opposition to the bill from the left and right — then my take.


What the left is saying.

The left supports a response to ‘Republican efforts to suppress the vote’ and wants to pressure Manchin into taking action.

In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson said Manchin is retreating “to fantasyland” and leaving America with the consequences.

“There’s no way to spin this as anything other than awful,” Robinson wrote. “Manchin did say he supports another proposed House bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would essentially restore provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act forbidding some states to change election laws without obtaining preclearance from the Justice Department. The original preclearance rules were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013… But Manchin wants this, too, to win bipartisan support. Unless Manchin changes his position on the filibuster, 10 Republican senators would have to cross the aisle and join with Democrats. So far, there is one — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The other nine must be in some parallel dimension, visible only to Manchin, where all the leprechauns, tooth fairies and unicorns are hiding.

“Inconveniently for Manchin’s fantasies of unity, the fact is that one of our major parties — the one Manchin ostensibly belongs to — believes in guaranteeing access to the polls for all eligible voters, making political donations more transparent, tightening ethics rules for members of Congress and ensuring that congressional districts are drawn fairly,” he wrote. “The other party doesn’t want to do any of those things, because Republicans see these reforms as threatening the GOP’s ability to win national elections with the support of a minority of voters.”

The New York Times editorial board criticized Republicans for “whittling away at the integrity of electoral democracy,” but said the For the People Act was “poorly matched to the moment.”

“The legislation attempts to accomplish more than is currently feasible, while failing to address some of the clearest threats to democracy, especially the prospect that state officials will seek to overturn the will of voters,” the board wrote. “Among other things, it would reshape campaign finance and impose new ethics restrictions on some government officials. This board has endorsed an earlier version of H.R. 1 and many of the current bill’s goals, as well as ending the filibuster to pass the bill outright. If proponents can muster the necessary votes to pass an expanded version that addresses threats to vote counting, that would be the best outcome for the United States. If they cannot, however, then it makes sense to pursue a narrow bill aimed squarely at voting access rollbacks and subversion of election results.”

In an interview with Jacobin, Ari Berman said we only have two years to preserve democracy.

“If the federal legislation fails, it’s going to embolden Republicans to pass more sweeping voter suppression laws without fear of any kind of consequence,” he told Jacobin. “That could lead to reduced Democratic turnout and higher levels of voter suppression, which could enable Republicans to take back power in Congress and retain power at the state level in 2022 and 2024. That could allow them to not certify elections in 2022 and 2024 so that even if Democrats are able to overcome the suppression measures, Republicans will still control the outcome of the elections and essentially nullify the will of the voters. That’s the worst-case scenario here. Basically, we’ll be in a situation where an election is only viewed as legitimate if Republicans win, and there’s no way that you could describe that as a democracy — where only one side is acknowledged as being able to fairly win an election.”


What the right is saying.

The right supports Manchin for holding the line on the center and preventing the ‘radical left’ from passing whatever it wants.

Former Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich tipped his hat to Joe Manchin in an op-ed.

“Setting aside the pros or cons of his positions, the vitriol unleashed against him by his fellow Democrats is condemnable,” Kasich wrote. “Heaven forbid someone in American politics actually does what he thinks is right. I know a thing or two about standing up to your own party. I won no friends when, as a Republican member of the House, I led opposition to President George H.W. Bush’s budget because of its sky-high deficits. My decision as governor to extend Medicaid healthcare benefits to more low-income Ohioans was lambasted by Republicans because of the move’s tie to ObamaCare. My opposition to Donald Trump sparked equal hostility.

“Groupthink will never help us come together as a nation,” he wrote. “We need to get to a place in politics where courage is valued and standing on principle is rewarded. Those with a different view aren’t right every time. Who is? But dismissing every view that diverges even slightly from your own is no strategy for success. The courageous are lonely. Mr. Manchin is looking around today wondering where all his friends went. I don’t need to tell you this, Joe, but it’s better to be lonely and right than wrong in a crowd.”

In Bloomberg, Ramesh Ponnuru said hyperbole on both sides is making things worse.

“The ‘voter suppression’ Democrats cite is like the ‘voter fraud’ Republicans complain about: Both sometimes happen, both are regrettable departures from democratic ideals, and both are rare,” Ponnuru said. “Republicans in state legislatures have advanced some objectionable proposals: In Georgia and Texas, they considered limits on early voting on Sundays that had no rationale other than to keep Democratic vote totals down. Both proposals got justifiable criticism, and the bills were changed.”

Ponnuru also said “many provisions in the Democrats’ voting bill, the For the People Act, are unconstitutional. Courts already found one of them, a regulation of online political ads, to be unconstitutional when Maryland tried it… The bill is a laundry list of progressive wishes that often bear little relation to the ‘voting rights’ label affixed to it. Taxpayer funding of campaigns and a code of ethics for the Supreme Court, both in the bill, have nothing to do with the ease of voting. And the provisions that actually deal with voting are also too sweeping: There is no reason that every state should be forced to discard voter-ID laws.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said Manchin was “playing political chess.”

“Especially obtuse are the progressives tweeting that Senate Democrats should strip Mr. Manchin of his committee assignments,” the board wrote. “By all means, please do. As the majority maker in a 50-50 Senate, Mr. Manchin could change parties and have his pick of committee seats as a member of the GOP majority… Mr. Manchin has never been known as a fierce conviction politician. He’s not Rand Paul (R., Ky.) voting to kill the GOP’s ObamaCare reform in 2017 because it wasn’t libertarian pure. Mr. Manchin is a canny operator from a right-leaning state who is trying to navigate between his West Virginia constituents and the bullying demands of the left-wing Democrats who dominate the national party.

“He’s also no fool,” they added. “He knows that embracing the Senate’s version (S.1) of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s election bill would play poorly in West Virginia. And he knows that breaking the 60-vote filibuster rule to do it would compound the harm by unleashing other left-wing legislation.”


My take.

It’s interesting to see how Manchin is portrayed in the press versus, say, Susan Collins, John McCain or Lisa Murkowski. The latter were all framed as independent-minded thinkers — McCain called a “maverick” — who bucked their party to do what they thought was right. The default assumption about Manchin seems to be that he’s only thinking about getting re-elected in West Virginia, rather than a genuine interest in striving for something better in the Senate.

Is he naive to think Republicans will work with him to pass a voting rights bill — even the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act? Probably. But he’s not a villain for opposing the For the People Act — and he’s not alone either. Some members of the Black Congressional Caucus oppose the bill’s reforms to gerrymandering. The New York Times editorial board fears it doesn’t address the changes to vote counting in states like Georgia. Plenty of Democrats are privately frustrated they’re wasting time on something that doesn’t stand a chance of passing — and never did.

Of course, things could be worse for Democrats. They could not have Manchin’s seat at all, which is the most likely outcome if he were to throw his weight behind some of the proposals he is now balking at. That’s just the truth of how the center holds in America. The most probable outcome here is that Manchin supports something like the sweeping infrastructure bill to pass via reconciliation (with just 50 votes) while slimming down bills like this in an effort to garner some bipartisan support.

None of this would be an issue, though, if Republican state legislatures weren’t trying to push through the bills they are in the first place. Remember: worse than simply gaming the system to function best for their voters, these Republican legislatures — specifically in Georgia, Texas, and Arizona — are actively trying to change the law so it’s easier to challenge and overturn election results after the fact. This is not hyperbole. It’s a real threat, and it’s prompting a proportional freakout from the left. As I write this sentence, there are “auditors” in Arizona conducting such an absurd, comically corrupt recount of the state’s ballots that a conservative radio host who once egged it on has now turned against it publicly.

It’s worth asking what should be done. Republicans want voter ID laws and extra layers of scrutiny on mail-in ballots. They often point to European countries and the identification laws they have in place. I say fine: let’s embrace these reforms, and the model many European countries use more broadly. That would mean automatic voter registration for anyone over 18 and government-provided photo identification to voting-age people. How’s that sound? That’s the kind of reform we should be pushing.

If one side wants to make voting more accessible and the other side wants to make voting more secure (and they mean it), let’s add the layers of security while expanding the accessibility. Democrats proposing bills that outlaw voter identification laws while simultaneously overhauling the way campaigns are financed (in a manner that’s constitutionally dubious) is not a smart or tactical way to respond to the suppression efforts from some of these state legislatures. But let’s not forget what they are actually responding to.

Now with both sides entrenched in their positions, we’re in this quagmire. Manchin has plenty of good reasons to oppose the For the People Act — though saying it’s not supported by his constituents is not one of them (it is). The bill goes well beyond just voting accessibility, and it has no chance of garnering a single Republican vote. But Manchin has also made zero progress in soliciting Republican support for something like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which I see no good reason not to support. If he can’t do that, then he’s left stuck between abolishing the filibuster and passing something like the For the People Act or allowing Republican state legislatures in crucial swing states to limit early voting, mail-in voting, and create new mechanisms to overturn elections they’ve lost. Those are two bad options, but the latter looks a lot worse to me. I’m not sure how long Manchin can hold up under the pressure, but it’s only going to get more intense.


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Your questions, answered.

Q: Why do pro-choice advocates focus on abortion as healthcare for the mother while ignoring all healthcare for the baby? Science proves that a fetus is a separate human being from the mother since it has its own DNA, and while it is dependent on the mother inside the womb, it is also dependent on the mother (or another caregiver) outside the womb. Why do pro-choice advocates refuse to address the fact that a baby at any stage of its development is still a completely individual human being?

— Rosie, Houston, Texas

Tangle: I’m certainly not going to try to speak for all pro-choice advocates — and especially pro-choice women — but I can tell you some of the more compelling arguments I’ve heard.

The first would probably be that pro-choice folks view the “inherent value” of a fetus’s life — or a zygote’s life immediately after conception — differently than a mother’s. But that’s also because they reject your premise that “science proves” when “a separate” life begins. They frequently cite Coleman Hughes’ piece on abortion, where he criticized current pro-choice advocacy and explains why he supports abortion. In part, he writes:

On the other side of the debate lies an equally bad argument, namely that life or personhood begins at conception because science says so. To the contrary, there exists no consensus among biologists about what, specifically, divides life from non-life. Moreover, science doesn’t even try to tell us when personhood begins because none of the ethically important dimensions of being a person—for example, conscious experience, the ability to feel pain, the capacity for self-sustaining growth, and so on—flips on like a light switch at any moment along the path, including the moment of conception. Most, if not all, of the capacities relevant to personhood emerge gradually on a spectrum of development, just as one color bleeds into the next on a color gradient.

The other argument that I think pro-choice people would make is that a fetus is not treated as an individual in any other realm besides preventing women from getting abortions. For instance, if a pregnant woman is in jail, aren’t the rights of her fetus — who committed no crime — being violated? Would a pregnant woman who had a miscarriage be guilty of a crime since she failed to take care of her child, the same way a mother looking after a baby might? While in some cases women in the U.S. have been charged with manslaughter for the death of a child in utero, in other cases prosecutors have dropped charges after trying to prosecute pregnant women who were shot. These kinds of competing arguments around the law illustrate the blurry lines on the spectrum of life and personhood, and how each side seeks to apply it.

Essentially: I think pro-choice advocates are arguing that treating a pregnant woman and the child inside her as “equal” in front of the law is not just wrong, but also inconsistently applied — almost exclusively in the argument to restrict abortions, but not in ways that would benefit women. The New York Times recently published an essay of sorts about this very topic, from the pro-choice vantage point, that you can read here.


A story that matters.

President Biden is aiming to expand and rebuild legal immigration to the U.S., according to a new report on Department of Homeland Security documents. The plan will allow foreigners to join their family members currently in the U.S., as well as expand the number of available work visas. “A 46-page draft blueprint obtained by The New York Times maps out the Biden administration’s plans to significantly expand the legal immigration system, including methodically reversing the efforts to dismantle it by former President Donald J. Trump, who reduced the flow of foreign workers, families and refugees,” The Times reported. Biden’s plan is not only to roll back Trump’s policies, but also to address “backlogs and delays that plagued prior presidents.”


Numbers.

  • 419. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in parts per million, the highest level recorded since CO² readings began 63 years ago.
  • 87%. The percentage of Republicans who said they saw little to no risk of returning to pre-pandemic life.
  • 70%. The percentage of Independents who said they saw little to no risk of returning to pre-pandemic life.
  • 55%. The percentage of Democrats who said they saw little to no risk of returning to pre-pandemic life.
  • 52%. The percentage of Americans who supported employers requiring vaccines before employees can return to work.
  • 48%. The percentage of Americans who opposed employers requiring vaccines before employees can return to work.

Have a nice day.

FDA regulators have approved the first drug ever aimed at slowing the deterioration of the brain caused by Alzheimer’s. The approval actually came with some controversy, as it was supported by many patients and advocates but criticized by others who argued there wasn’t yet sufficient evidence the drug worked. For now, though, it’s the first drug treatment approved since 2003 and a breath of fresh new hope for many of the 6.2 million Americans (and their families) suffering from Alzheimer’s. (The Washington Post, subscription)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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