Politics Joe Manchin's "highly suspicious" reversal on voting bill follows donation from corporate lobby
Manchin's homegrown bipartisanship comes up against a changing world
When Joe Manchin was in the fight of his political life, vying for reelection in a state where being a Democrat had long been out of fashion, the senator's opening message to voters focused on the place he knew best: Farmington, West Virginia. © Maddie McGarvey for CNN Michael Angelucci, former state delegate, and Donna Costello, former mayor of Farmington.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) heads to a vote in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on June 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. The spotlight on Sen. Manchin grew even brighter after declaring that he will vote against the Democrats voting rights bill, the For the People Act, in his op-ed that was published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail over the weekend. Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat famous for his vow to maintain the Senate filibuster and thereby scuttle much of President Biden's agenda, recently published an op-ed opposing the For the People Act, Democrats' whopping voting-rights bill. That article strongly echoed talking points from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — and appeared shortly after the influential pro-business lobby resumed donations to Manchin's campaign after nearly a decade.
MSNBC Host Mehdi Hasan Questions Joe Manchin's Intelligence: 'Just Not Very Bright'
Hasan tore into Manchin for allegedly "aiding and abetting" Republicans.In an op-ed published Sunday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin revealed that he will continue to oppose abolishing the filibuster and vote against the major Democratic voting rights bill. "The truth, I would argue, is that voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen," he wrote.
Manchin, whothe sweeping voting rights legislation in 2019 and has in the past, became the first Senate Democrat to this week while reiterating his opposition to changing the filibuster, a key roadblock to voting reform. Skeptical members of Manchin's party have questioned the reasons for his opposition, especially after after a found that a majority of West Virginia voters support changing the filibuster rules and that 79% of the state's voters — including a large majority of Republicans — support the For the People Act.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., suggested that Manchin's opposition to the proposal and filibuster reform may really be about measures in the bill aimed at cracking down on lobbyists and dark money.
Some Democrats wonder when Schumer will get tough with Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin's defiant statement that he will not vote for a sweeping election reform bill nor vote to get rid of the filibuster has progressive groups and some Democratic lawmakers wondering when Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will get tough with the West Virginia Democrat.Manchin is a member of Schumer's leadership team and Schumer has several points of leverage, including the power to replace him as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. But Schumer doesn't have a reputation for getting tough with colleagues. Instead, he keeps them close and hardly ever criticizes Democratic senators who cause him headaches.
"This is probably just as much a part of Joe Manchin's calculus than anything else,"on Tuesday. "You look at the Koch brothers and you look at organizations like the Heritage Foundation and conservative lobby groups that are doing a victory lap ... over the fact that Manchin refuses to change on the filibuster. And I think that these two things are very closely intertwined."
Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by billionaire Republican donor Charles Koch, hasin its pressure campaign to defeat the legislation even though their that provisions cracking down on dark money are highly popular, including among Republican voters. Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the Koch-backed Heritage Foundation, earlier this year to pressure Manchin to oppose the bill. Heritage Action has also partnered with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to for Republican state legislators. A Heritage Action organizer boasted in a video obtained by that the group was behind key provisions of the controversial law recently passed in Georgia.
Manchin's staunch opposition to ending filibuster may imperil Biden's agenda, including infrastructure
Manchin dashed hopes on the left that recent events might compel him to reconsider his support for keeping the Senate's 60-vote rule to pass bills.The moderate Democrat, in a Sunday op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, not only revealed his opposition to the Democratic-backed For the People Act but reiterated he won't vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.
"Joe Manchin isn't moved by leaders who have spent decades organizing for civil rights," Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.,after Manchin that said his position on the For the People Act had not changed after meeting with civil rights leaders on Tuesday. "Manchin isn't moved by the views of his constituents. Manchin isn't moved by GOP voter suppression bills in 43 states. Because Manchin is only moved by corporate donors and their agenda."
One group that has been a major cheerleader of Manchin's staunch opposition is the aforementioned U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful pro-business group thatand .
Manchin's op-ed announcing his opposition echoed the Chamber's talking points in aalleging that "partisan" legislation would "undermine" public confidence in democracy, even though Republicans across the country have advanced and enacted overtly partisan bills aimed at restricting ballot access.
"When it comes to this 'bipartisan' argument, I gotta tell you, I don't buy it," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Joe Manchin has voted for bills that have not been bipartisan before. Look at the American Rescue Plan. So this is not just about bipartisanship."
Inside Biden and Manchin's Joemance
Democratic senators say that only the president can convince the influential centrist to sign off on key parts of the party's agenda.Four months after Biden helped secure Manchin’s vote for a party-line, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law, the president is taking a different approach with the West Virginia Democrat who's blocking multiple party priorities. Biden didn't sound pleased last week when, during a speech marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, he appeared to take a public swipe at Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) by citing two Democrats who frequently sided with Republicans.
The op-ed came after the Chamber, which has launched an expensive lobbying effort against the bill, resumed donations to Manchin's campaign for the first time since 2012. Reuters described this flow of corporate dollars as afor Manchin's opposition to numerous Biden administration's initiatives, as well as his stalwart support for the filibuster, which has almost certainly doomed the For the People Act.
"The timing of Sen. Manchin's announcement is highly suspicious," Kyle Herrig, president of the progressive government watchdog group Accountable.US, said in a statement to Salon. "Not long after the Chamber reopened their corporate checkbook for him, he made his opposition to voting rights known. Now millions of Americans may face significant roadblocks when they try to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Once again the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has found a way to stop any progress on voting rights from progressing on Capitol Hill."
Manchin's office and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not respond to questions from Salon.
The Chamber is one of the most powerful trade groups in the country, spendingon lobbying last year, second only to the National Association of Realtors. It is the single largest lobbying spender this year, dropping to influence policy, nearly twice as much as the pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA. The group has been aggressively lobbying against the For the People Act since 2019, spending more than $129 million on opposing the bill and related issues since it was first introduced in the House, according to lobbying disclosures.
The Democratic Senators Hiding Behind Joe Manchin
It was March 5, right before the Senate’s doomed vote to raise the minimum wage to $15, and, as usual, Sen. Joe Manchin was the center of attention. But there was no need for reporters to swarm the West Virginia moderate. On that day, he was far from the only Democrat who’d give the thumbs-down to a progressive priority. Seven other Democratic senators would vote the same way—and draw far less recognition or criticism. That tally surprisedBut there was no need for reporters to swarm the West Virginia moderate. On that day, he was far from the only Democrat who’d give the thumbs-down to a progressive priority. Seven other Democratic senators would vote the same way—and draw far less recognition or criticism.
While the U.S. Chamber's corporate members pay for its lobbying, its PAC donations come from the group's executives, staff members and other affiliated individuals. The Chamber's PAC made ato Manchin in the first quarter of this year, its first since . Shortly after, the Chamber to all members of the Senate threatening to include "votes related to this bill in our annual How They Voted scorecard" and mentioning some of its specific provisions, including a requirement to disclose big donors and communications with candidates, a plan to strengthen the Federal Election Commission, and public financing of campaigns.
"The Chamber is deeply troubled by efforts at the state and federal level to enact election law changes on a partisan basis," the letter said. "Changes enacted on a partisan basis are the most likely to erode access and security and undermine public confidence and the willingness of the American people to trust and accept future election outcomes."
Manchin echoed that argument in his op-ed, writing that he believes "partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy" and "partisan policymaking won't instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it."
Both the Chamber and Manchin have called for lawmakers to advance voting legislation on a "bipartisan" basis, although it's inarguable that one party is seeking to expand voting rights while the other is actively trying to restrict them. Manchin has claimed there is bipartisan support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would require states to pre-clear voting changes with the Justice Department. That's technically true: Exactly one Republican senator (Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) has expressed support for the bill. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellon Tuesday that his party would not support the legislation and denied that there was any threat to voting rights.
Joe Manchin's Game | Opinion
It's time to take to the field, and challenge Senator Joe Manchin's machine head on.Unlike the vast majority of their constituents, U.S. senators don't have to worry about medical bills or food or their next paycheck. For them, politics really is just a game.
Manchin, whose ties to the U.S. Chamber, when he was West Virginia governor, from Chamber president and CEO Suzanne Clark earlier this year for his "principled stand" on preserving the filibuster, which is the most significant roadblock to the voting legislation.
Nick Vaugh, a lobbyist for the Chamber,with a "Spirit of Free Enterprise Award" in 2019, which the group says it gives to lawmakers who have supported its positions .
As it happens, Vaugh has beensenators on the For the People Act and other issues since 2019, according to federal disclosure forms.
"It's unfortunate Sen. Manchin has bought into the U.S. Chamber's smears against the For The People Act," Herrig told Salon. "And just like the Chamber, he is wrong — there is nothing 'partisan' about protecting the right to vote for all Americans. In carrying the Chamber's water, Sen. Manchin is only inviting further voter suppression."
The Chamber's pressure on senators to oppose the voting rights legislation comes as many of its corporate membersin state legislatures.
Accountable.US has launched achallenging corporations like Microsoft, Target and Salesforce to back up their public support of voting rights by cutting ties with the group, accusing it of "siding against millions of Americans who will be subject to these racist voter suppression laws."
"It's on Chamber members that claim to support voting rights to end their relationships and speak out against this assault on Americans' rights to vote," Herrig said, "because anything less makes them complicit."
Joe Manchin’s sweeping new voting rights proposal, explained .
The pivotal senator has released a potentially transformative plan to promote fair elections.But on Wednesday, Manchin did something unexpected: He released a long list of voting reforms that he does support, potentially scrambling the congressional debate over voting rights as the Senate prepares to vote on Democratic leaders’ proposal.