Even though Senator Joe Manchin faces pressure for his refusal to back a sweeping voting bill, there was a calm atmosphere when he met with several of the US’ leading civil rights groups on Tuesday to discuss the bill.
“It was entirely constructive. It wasn’t tense in the least. Look, if there was going to be a tense meeting ever, this one was set up to be that. But it wasn’t,” Damon Hewitt, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the Guardian. “This relationship that we are continuing to build is bigger, so we were committed to this not being a tense, bombthrowing meeting.”
Manchin too said the meeting was constructive, though he remained unmoved.
“I don’t think anybody changed positions on that. We’re just learning where everybody’s coming from,” he said.
The meeting underscores the enormous power Manchin has over the future on major civil rights bills, as well as virtually every other element of the Democratic agenda. Advocates must seek a way to show Manchin the urgency of acting without alienating them from their cause.
Chuck Schumer, the senate majority leader, has pledged there will be a vote on the For the People Act at the end of June. He said Tuesday there could be changes to the bill before then – a tacit acknowledgment the current bill may be unfeasible given Manchin’s objections. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Tuesday Democrats were expecting Manchin to provide a specific list of his qualms with the bill.
Asked whether Manchin understood the urgent need to act on voting rights now, Hewitt said: “Urgency, I’m not sure if he connects with because he’s on a different clock. His clock is the long game.”
“People may say he’s angling for this or that, what he can get for his state. Maybe some of that is true, I don’t know. But he came across as deeply principled. That he believes what he says and he says what he believes. And we may just simply disagree,” he added.