Tuesday’s weekly Senate Democratic lunch will be a homecoming of sorts — but not necessarily a comfortable one for Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
For the first time in a year, Senate Democrats — newly freed from pandemic precautions that prevented such gatherings for more than a year — will convene 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 will be the escalating pressure from Democrats nationwide for them to push forward with sweeping voting-rights legislation to counter restrictive ballot access laws that are streaming through Republican-held state capitals.
Mr. Manchin could be in the hot seat during the session, as the only Democrat in the Senate who has refused to sign on to the bill.
As part of a series of meetings designed to rally support for the legislation, Senate leaders have invited Democratic members of the Texas legislature to make the case on Tuesday for why it is urgently needed. The Texans managed to stave off passage of a voter restriction bill in their state legislature last month with a dramatic late-night walkout, but that stunt cannot prevent the new rules from going into effect forever, as long as majority Republicans in Austin remain united. Many Democrats argue that only the enactment of superseding federal legislation mandating extended voting hours and mail-in balloting, as the party’s far-reaching For the People Act would do, could accomplish that.
Texas Democrats have pleaded for the federal cavalry to ride in, and they largely will be 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 broad voting rights, presidential ethics and campaign finance bill that 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 the voter protection measure will never get enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster with 60 votes.
Other senators have expressed qualms as well. 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. Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, a Democrat who could face a tough re-election fight next year if the state’s popular Republican governor, Chris Sununu, challenges her, has also been mum about a final vote.
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.
Of course, there is no guarantee he will show up to the luncheon.
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