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Stacey Abrams backs Manchin's voting rights compromise as Senate eyes vote

Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams threw her support behind Sen. Joe Manchin’s voting legislation compromise, handing him a key endorsement.
Stacey Abrams speak at the Coan Recreation Center in Atlanta on Nov. 3, 2020.
Stacey Abrams, in Atlanta on Nov. 3, 2020.Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams threw her support behind Sen. Joe Manchin’s voting legislation compromise including the component requiring a form of voter identification handing the West Virginia Democrat a key endorsement ahead of a crucial vote next week.

Manchin released a list of voting and campaign finance changes to the legislation that he would back on Wednesday, opening the door to compromise on the Democrats’ top voting bill, known as S. 1 or the For the People Act. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told the Democratic caucus that the Senate would vote to advance voting rights legislation on Tuesday, June 22, said a Senate Democratic source familiar with the plans. It would be a procedural vote, requiring 60 senators to advance.

Manchin has said he opposes the act, arguing it’s too partisan and needs bipartisan support, and said he would not vote to amend the filibuster to pass that or the narrower John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the face of near-unanimous Republican opposition.

Asked in an interview Thursday morning whether she could support Manchin's proposal, Abrams told CNN “absolutely.”

Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., singled out her endorsement in a statement that made clear his continued opposition to federal election reform.

“In reality, the plan endorsed by Stacey Abrams is no compromise. It still subverts the First Amendment to supercharge cancel culture and the left’s name-and-shame campaign model. It takes redistricting away from state legislatures and hands it over to computers," he wrote in a statement. "And it still retains S. 1's rotten core: an assault on the fundamental idea that states, not the federal government, should decide how to run their own elections.”

Manchin said Wednesday that he still opposed changing the filibuster rules to pass any voting legislation without Republican support; if McConnell's opposition is shared by his caucus, it could imperil the compromise.

Manchin, for his part, told reporters on Thursday that he's "talking to everybody" to try and win the votes needed to pass voting legislation.

"I've been talking to Stacey, you know I talked to everybody. And I've been working across the aisle with all the Republicans trying to get people to understand that that's the bedrock of our democracy, an accessible, fair, and basically secured voting," he told reporters.

He said he hopes Republicans will cross the aisle and support it, but so far, it has been Democrats who have raised their voices in support of Manchin's compromise.

“’What Sen. Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible no matter your geography,” Abrams said. “And those provisions that he is setting forth are strong ones that will create a level playing field, will create standards that do not vary from state to state and I think will ensure that every American has improved access to the right to vote despite the onslaught of state legislation seeking to restrict the access to vote.”

Abrams narrowly lost a bid for governor in Georgia in 2018 and has emerged as the left’s most prominent voting rights advocate. Her endorsement lends Manchin's proposed compromise some key support.

His proposal includes changes to both of the current 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 proposed requiring voter identification but allowing alternatives like utility bills to suffice as proof of identity.

Pressed on the voter ID provision, Abrams said that “no one has ever objected to having to prove who you are to vote.”

She argued that restrictive voter ID bills — like bills that bar voters from using student ID cards but allow gun licenses — are the bills she opposes.

In 2020, 35 states requested some form of voter identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, while other states check other identifying information like signatures at the polls.

“I support voter identification," Abrams concluded. "I reject restrictive voter ID designed to keep people out of the process.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said Manchin's proposal was "very significant" and brings Democrats "closer to the goal" of passing voting rights legislation.

"It underscores the ways in which we are continuing to work on this in our caucus, because we know that it's our job to make sure that we preserve voting rights for every American," Warnock told NBC News. "I am encouraged by these recent developments."

Warnock suggested there was a path to compromise on voter identification requirements, as Manchin proposed in his blueprint.

"I have never been opposed to voter ID," Warnock said. "And in fact, I don't know anybody who is — who believes people shouldn't have to prove that they are who they say they are. But what has happened over the years is people have played with common sense identification and put into place restrictive measures intended not to preserve the integrity of the outcome, but to select, certain group."

Warnock responded to McConnell's remarks that federal voting rights laws are not needed, asking: "Is he also opposed to the Voting Rights [Act] law in 1965?"

He said that if Republicans don't provide the votes to defeat a filibuster, "we have some decisions to make about how we make sure that every American has the right to vote."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who oversaw the bill in committee, praised what she called "a good faith effort by Sen. Manchin to put forth some ideas."

"We're not going to negotiate it out here. But I think you see people like Stacey Abrams and Rev. Warnock, who know firsthand the horrors of voter suppression, coming out and saying, 'We're glad he's coming forward with some ideas.' I've talked to him a number of times and we'll continue to work through his ideas," Klobuchar said.

"As we've said many times, failure is not an option," she said, without guaranteeing that it would get 50 Democratic votes. "Let's just see. One thing at a time."