Civil Rights Leaders Press Manchin on Voting Rights

The virtual meeting came two days after Mr. Manchin unequivocally stated his opposition to the Democrats’ landmark elections bill.


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Civil rights leaders press Manchin for a path forward on voting rights, but he remains unmoved on a broad bill.

Derrick Johnson, the N.A.A.C.P.’s president and chief executive, in Detroit in 2019.Credit…Jeff Kowalsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

June 8, 2021, 12:31 p.m. ET

Prominent civil rights leaders implored Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia on Tuesday to help find a path forward in Congress for legislation to protect voting rights, making a case to the measure’s most vocal Democratic opponent that enacting it was an existential imperative.

The virtual meeting between Mr. Manchin and the leaders of the N.A.A.C.P., the National Urban League and the National Action Network had been scheduled for weeks, and it yielded no breakthroughs. But it was particularly timely, coming two days after the West Virginian made his most unequivocal statement yet in opposition to the Democrats’ landmark elections bill, the For the People Act.

He also said he would never back gutting the legislative filibuster, closing off the only viable pathway for broad legislation that would counter a wave of Republican state laws restricting access to the ballot.

Attendees said their goal had been to begin building a relationship with Mr. Manchin, a centrist from a deep red state, and appealing to him for action — not to stoke a confrontation. The conversation was scant on policy details, though Mr. Manchin told the leaders that he planned to continue a long-shot attempt to build Republican support for a narrower voting bill that would beef up the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“At the N.A.A.C.P., we understand the sausage-making of public policy and because of that, we appreciate Senator Manchin and the pivotal role he plays,” said Derrick Johnson, the group’s president and chief executive. “So this was an opportunity to work toward a solution, not complain about a problem.”

But Mr. Johnson did suggest that Mr. Manchin’s stated position that he could not support “partisan” voting legislation — meaning any bill that lacked the support of at least some Republicans — was untenable. Others were blunter.

“Let me be clear here. We opened by asking him to reconsider his position,” said Marc H. Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League. “He did not say he is going to reconsider his position. But we’re not giving up.”

Speaking with reporters afterward, Mr. Manchin praised the civil rights leaders as “the most powerful, informative and respectful group I’ve spoken to in a long time.” He said he intended to talk with the group again, though the discussion had not prompted him to reconsider his views.

“I don’t think anybody changed positions on that; we’re just learning where everyone’s coming from,” Mr. Manchin said.

Mr. Manchin had previously said he was opposed to changing the filibuster rule, and did not support the For the People Act, also known as Senate Bill 1. But on Sunday, he made those hypothetical positions more concrete, in an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette Mail that stated plainly that he planned to would vote ‘no’ later this month when Democratic leaders hold a vote on Senate Bill 1. And he said he would never support changing the rules which require proponents of legislation to muster 60 votes to move past a filibuster, dashing the hopes of many of his colleagues that he could eventually be persuaded to do so.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the president and founder of the National Action Network, said that he and other civil rights leaders could not get a clear answer from Mr. Manchin on substantive concerns he had with the voting measure, other than to say he wanted to find Republicans who would support such a bill.

“I think we made it clear that it was unlikely,” Rev. Sharpton said in an interview. “I’m a minister, but there’s a difference between faith and fantasy.”

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