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Where Democrats compromised to get Sen. Manchin’s support on voting rights bill

A major battle over election reform is underway in the U.S. Senate as Republicans in some states push to enact more restrictive voting laws, while Democrats aim to override those efforts at the federal level. Sen. Joe Manchin signaled he will vote with his party, the Democrats, to allow voting on a modified bill. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss its implications.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A major battle over election reform is under way in the U.S. Senate.

    This comes as Republicans in some states push to enact more restrictive voting laws, while Democrats in the Senate aim to override those efforts at the federal level.

    Lisa Desjardins is following tonight's Senate vote on Capitol Hill. She and Yamiche Alcindor join me now.

    So, Lisa, to you first.

    The voting is actually under way right now. Tell us where everything stands.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right, Judy.

    This is a procedural vote. It's a vote to just even start the debate on the idea of election and voting right reform. And the truth is, we expect this vote to fail. It needs 60 votes, but it only has 50.

    Now, it's important that it does have 50, because this issue, Judy, I can't stress enough, is one that both sides believe is critical to our democracy itself, the future of voting rights in this country, who can vote and who decides who can vote.

    In fact, Vice President Kamala Harris is in the chair right now for this vote. What Democrats are kind of corralling around at this moment, all 50 of them for opening debate, is a compromise by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

    And he is proposing something. I will show you in a graphic what he's proposing. He's saying that, in his deal, in his proposal, he would like voter I.D. to be required across the country. Now, that could be something that includes even a utility bill or driver's license, 15 days of early voting, also automatic registration of voting.

    And, in addition to that, it would ban partisan gerrymandering. So, in that idea from Senator Manchin are things that both sides like. Republicans would like more voter identification requirements. But Democrats want to make sure that those aren't too stringent, so that they ban access, especially to people who are lower income or marginalized.

    But, Judy, here's the thing to understand. Democrats want to work out their own agreement with Manchin. They know tonight this entire debate will be blocked. So, then they have to figure out their next steps.

    But what they're doing tonight is an important statement. They want to show that they are — believe that voting rights in this country are in trouble. And they want to show that Republicans are on the other side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, Yamiche, we know President Biden has taken a lot of interest in this issue. What are White House officials telling you about their view of all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, White House officials and the president are stressing that this fight over voting rights is not over no matter what happens with this vote that is under way right now.

    They're saying the president is going to do everything that he possibly can to protect democracy. And they mean pushing back on these GOP-backed voting laws. That comes, of course, as progressive Democrats have been pushing the president to do more.

    Now, today, the president just tweeted out just a few hours ago this photo of him speaking to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Let's show the photo, if we can. This is the president at the — in the Oval Office. He's stressing the idea that he has a strategy call going on.

    And this is really underscoring the idea that the president wants to be seen as engaged in this fight over this voting rights bill. The Biden administration also released the statement. I want to read part of it to you.

  • It says:

    "Democracy is in peril here in America. This landmark legislation is needed to protect the right to vote, ensure the integrity of our elections, and repair and strengthen American democracy."

    Now, I want to go back to this idea of the pressure that the White House is facing. Progressive Democrats are saying President Biden is not doing enough. He's not using his bully pulpit in a way that could have more impact. They're saying they want to see more speeches, they want to see more action.

    The White House, though, says the president is doing all he can. He gave a speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, talking specifically about this issue of voting rights. So they're saying at the White House, we are trying our best here.

    The other thing is, I have been talking to civil rights leaders all day. They want to see two things from this White House in particular. The first is, the Department of Justice, they want to see them actually looking at these laws that are being passed by state legislatures to possibly take some sort of action in the states.

    They also want to see President Biden accelerate nominating judicial nominees, judges on the courts, because they see that as a first line of defense against these voting rights laws.

    So, all of this is happening. The White House is watching this very closely and still staying engaged, the vice president and the president going to be working with a lot of voting rights group, I'm told by multiple sources.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, given that stance from the White House, Lisa, what are Democrats planning to do after they lose this vote, which, as you say, they're expected to do? And what effect could this have on the Senate rule called the filibuster, which, of course, requires them to get 60 votes, which they don't have?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is the big question hanging over the Senate and Democrats right now.

    First, on the Voting Rights Act, the For the People Act, Democrats are talking about potentially breaking it into smaller pieces, taking separate votes on different chunks of this very extensive proposal, again, having there Democrats vote yes in some way, forcing Republicans to vote no. Republicans have no problem with that.

    They see this as a state vs. federal issue, as a federal overreach. But it is opening the door to a bigger conversation about the filibuster, which is also part of that pressure on Democrats that Yamiche is talking about.

    Progressives thinks it's time for the filibuster to go. But when you talk to Senate Democrats — Judy, I did a survey — there are only 24 of the 50 Senate Democrats who openly say they will reform the filibuster. The rest are interested in it. And there are two, importantly, who are opposed to it. That is Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

    Without those two senators voting in favor of filibuster reform, it has no chance. And, right now, they are both hard-nosed. So this is the opening salvo in a long conversation I think we will all be having.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A long conversation, for sure.

    Lisa Desjardins covering from the Capitol, Yamiche Alcindor, who's been following from the White House, thank you both.

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