Politics|Manchin stays away from a lunch at which Texas lawmakers urge Senate Democrats to pass a broad voting rights bill.
Tuesday’s Senate Democratic lunch was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts — but an uncomfortable one for Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
He didn’t show up.
For the first time in a year, Senate Democrats — newly freed from pandemic precautions that prevented their weekly lunch for more than a year — convened in the ornate room in the Capitol named after a former majority leader, Mike Mansfield, just off the Senate floor, to hash out the issues facing the caucus. Front and center was the escalating pressure from Democrats nationwide to push forward with a far-reaching congressional voting-rights bill to counter restrictive ballot access laws that are streaming through Republican-held state capitals.
Mr. Manchin, as the only Democrat in the Senate who has refused to sign on to the bill, was supposed to be in the hot seat. His absence suggested that he was sticking by his opposition.
As part of a series of meetings designed to rally support for the legislation, Senate leaders had brought in Democratic members of the Texas Legislature to make the case for why the bill, known as the For the People Act, is urgently needed. The Texans managed to stave off passage of a state voter restriction bill last month with a dramatic late-night walkout, but that stunt cannot stave off the bill’s eventual passage if the Republican majority in Austin remains united. Many Democrats argue that only the enactment of superseding federal legislation mandating extended voting hours and mail-in balloting, as the party’s bill would do, could accomplish that.
Texas Democrats pleaded for the federal cavalry to ride in.
“We heard really moving testimony from five Texas state lawmakers about the vicious, nasty and bigoted attacks aimed at voting rights in their state,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said afterward. “These Texas Democrats bravely fought against voter suppression. They briefed our senators on what’s happening in their state and why passing legislation is so important.”
The Texans were largely preaching to the converted. Forty-nine Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have signed on as co-sponsors of the measure, also known as S1. The bill, which also covers presidential ethics and campaign finance, is slated to face a test vote in the Senate later this month.
The 50th vote is the problem; Mr. Manchin has said in no uncertain terms that he will not vote for the bill, nor will he vote to end the legislative filibuster in the Senate, an equally necessary step, since Democrats have no hope of getting enough Republican support to come up with the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said no senator from his party would vote for what they see as a power grab by Democrats to seize control of election laws from the states.
“The core desire they have is to federalize all elections, to try to achieve a benefit for the Democrats, at the expense of the Republicans,” he said.
Some senators on the Democratic side have expressed qualms at the bill’s scope. Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he had issues with the breadth of the bill, and would favor jettisoning some parts of it, especially a provision that would begin taxpayer financing of elections.
But Democrats say first things first, and the first step is to try to get Mr. Manchin to co-sponsor the bill and present at least the veneer of a united Democratic front.