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Manchin’s opposition a ‘body blow’ to Democrats’ voting rights legislation

The U.S. Senate has returned to work facing a crowded field of initiatives. But West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist, may throw a wrench in his party's agenda on the issue of voting rights. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the legislation called the For The People Act and breaks down why Manchin opposes it.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Senate has returned to work, facing a crowded agenda in what we expect could be a pivotal month on many issues.

    But there was news this past weekend that could throw a wrench into one piece of that agenda. It came from centrist Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia on the issue of voting rights.

    Lisa Desjardins is here with me in our studio, in a first in a long time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa, thank you for being here. It feels strange to be in person, but it's about time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I agree.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But here to walk us through what's going on.

    So, let's talk about Joe Manchin. A lot of attention this weekend. He wrote an opinion piece saying he is opposed to this great big voting rights bill that Democrats have their hearts set on. What is behind the opposition?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    First, I want to remind folks what is in this bill. This is a critical issue to Democrats and was part of President Biden's agenda when he was running for office.

    This is the For the People Act, is what it's called. It's the title of the bill. Sometimes, people say S.1 or H.R.1 What's in it? Well, this contains provisions that would expand early voting and registration across the country in federal elections. It would block states from doing some of the things they're doing now, like voter purges. It would make it tougher for them to do those things.

    It would also end partisan gerrymandering. So, this is a broad bill. And it would make that large donors would have to disclose themselves publicly, campaign finance.

    Now, it is a big bill. It is something that is obviously very critical right now, as we see rising in this country both sides talking about democracy and voting rights and what's happening at this moment. In comes Joe Manchin. He would be the 50th vote that Democrats would have for this in the Senate. They have 49.

    And here's what he said in his op-ed saying why he opposed it. He wrote: "I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy. And for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act."

    Notable, he did not have any substantive problems with the bill that he raised. Instead, he said, the issue is there are no Republicans on board. Democrats, of course, have a real problem with that. They say, we think Republicans are going to play games here and block this bill.

    But the bottom line, Judy, at this time, this Manchin decision is a body blow to this legislation. It is not dead yet, but it is in real trouble. It's unclear if, when Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, will bring it back up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And raises questions about a number of other pieces of legislation that Democrats have their heart set on, one, infrastructure, this proposal by the president.

    The president's been having a number of conversations with Senator Shelley — another — the other senator from West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito, who's a Republican.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where does all that stand?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's call it the political Mountain State right now, right?

    Let me give folks a quick update on where we are on infrastructure, something that could affect almost every city in this country.

    The state of negotiations right now, the Senate Republicans' last offer was $250 billion in new spending. This was back and forth over the weekend. President Biden has lowered sort of his bottom line to at least $1 trillion. He has offered a compromise on how to pay for this, which is interesting, saying he would accept a lower corporate tax rate of 15 percent. He'd wanted up to 28 percent.

    But he said, corporations would have to pay that 15 percent, no loopholes. Now, Republicans haven't responded yet. But I think the bottom line on this one, Judy, is that this also is not going well. They are very far apart. And this is something that they don't have a lot of time to figure out. Biden wants to go big.

    A lot of Democrats are pushing him that way, saying, end the negotiations. Republicans, they're still talking.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're suggesting, Lisa, and you have told us you think this month could be crucial for a number of issues before the Congress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Republican, told me a couple weeks ago before they left for recess that it is June or bust on racial justice legislation, police reform. So that's going to have the next two weeks, infrastructure, also some spending rules. Speaker Pelosi is trying to get through her spending bills on infrastructure by the end of this month as well.

    All of that on top of this situation with the For the People or the Voting Rights Act. It is going to be very busy. And it's critical, because the direction that Democrats choose now could lay the road for the rest of this year and maybe for the Biden administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Several weeks to go. It's only June 7.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. It's getting hotter.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, very good to have you in the studio. Thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So good to be back.

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