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Manchin proposes compromise on voting bills ahead of crucial Senate vote

Sen. Joe Manchin opened the door to a compromise on voting legislation with a memo proposing a slew of changes to the Democratic bills.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., departs a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on June 9, 2021.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., departs a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on June 9.Al Drago / Pool via AP file

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., opened the door to a compromise on federal voting and campaign finance legislation Wednesday with a memo outlining provisions that he would support.

Manchin has emerged as a key figure in his party's fight to pass federal legislation aimed at protecting voting rights. The moderate Democrat has opposed his party’s voting legislation, dubbed the For the People Act (S.1), saying it’s too partisan and arguing that any voting changes should have bipartisan support.

Manchin has supported a narrower bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but said he doesn’t believe the filibuster rules should be changed to pass it despite opposition from most Republicans.

On Wednesday, he reaffirmed to reporters that he still believes voting legislation — including his own proposed version — should be passed on a bipartisan basis and he doesn’t back amending the filibuster rules to pass it without Republican support.

Manchin's compromise proposal include changes to both bills. He supports making Election Day a public holiday, offering 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections and automatic voter registration through state departments of motor vehicles.

He also proposes requiring voter identification but allowing alternatives like utility bills to suffice as proof of identity.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said no Republicans will vote for the For the People Act and argued the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is unnecessary.

In his memo, Manchin reiterated his desire for bipartisan support and offered up changes to both bills.

“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,” he wrote.

Manchin's proposal came as a welcome surprise to Democrats and activists pushing for passage of the For the People Act, who saw it as an opening to reshape the bill to win his support.

"I think he's making a really valuable contribution by being engaged on such important issues like defending the right and freedom of every American to vote," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the lead sponsor of S.1, told reporters Wednesday ahead of an anticipated vote on the legislation next week.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., an outspoken voice on the issue, said he is "hopeful that we will find a way forward" that includes winning Manchin's vote on election rules, saying he has spoken to him about the issue.

"We've got to find a way to get voting rights, period," he told NBC News in a recent interview. "Is there room for compromise and conversation? Absolutely."

Warnock said that could include combining elements of the For the People Act with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as long as they "find a way to make sure that the people's voices are not squeezed out of their democracy."

A senior Democratic aide involved in the S.1 negotiations said it was a welcome sign that Manchin was shifting his opposition from demands for bipartisanship to policy specifics.

"Progress is progress. Conversations are good. And understanding what Sen. Manchin's concerns about the bill are is helpful in moving forward," the aide said. "And this is a very optimistic moment in the trajectory of ensuring expanded voting rights."

The aide noted that some provisions on Manchin's list, like voter ID, could be a nonstarter with certain Democrats who see it as a policy that would "make it harder for people to vote."

Bringing Manchin on board would be crucial to securing 50 Senate votes, with Democrats lacking any serious hope of Republican support for the legislation. But the bigger hurdle is getting to 60 votes to formally advance the bill and move to a Senate vote, which would require weakening or abolishing the filibuster, something that Manchin has repeatedly ruled out.

Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for End Citizens United, a progressive group fighting to pass S.1, said in a text message: "We know that Senator Manchin cares deeply about protecting our democracy and limiting the influence of special interests and this will continue to be an on-going negotiation that everyone should let play out."

On Monday, Manchin organized a Zoom meeting to discuss voting rights and policing issues, inviting a group of at least eight Republicans as well as civil rights leaders, multiple aides familiar with the meeting told NBC News.

"We’re encouraged to see movement to protect voting rights, but there’s much work left to be done," Jonah Bryson, spokesperson for NAACP President Derrick Johnson, told NBC News on Wednesday. "President Johnson looks forward to having more conversations with Sen. Manchin and all senators as we push forward."