Manchin blasts Democrats' voting rights bill, says pursuit of bipartisanship "not naive"

The strident moderate made clear he does not plan on changing course — despite continued Republican obstructionism

Published June 6, 2021 12:23PM (EDT)

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (Getty Images)
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, handed a double blow to progressives Sunday morning, destroying any hopes that the strident moderate might come around on filibuster reform that would allow the chamber a chance to pass the ambitious legislative agenda favored by President Joe Biden.

Manchin denied that his continued support for the filibuster was "naive" during an appearance on Fox News Sunday, at the same time he published a home-state editorial outlining his opposition to a Democratic-led voting rights bill — effectively sinking the measure.

In recent weeks Manchin has used his position as a fulcrum of power in the evenly divided Senate to chase the fading possibility of bipartisanship, even after Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said recently that he is "100 percent" focused on blocking President Joe Biden's agenda from passing the chamber. And despite the near certainty of future obstructionism from Republicans across the aisle, Manchin made clear Sunday during a contentious exchange with Fox host Chris Wallace that he does not plan on changing course.

"You said you oppose scrapping the filibuster — The question I have is whether or not -- and you say that you hope that will bring the parties together -- the question I have is whether or not you're doing it exactly the wrong way?" Wallace asked Manchin during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.

"Hear me out on this, if you were to keep the idea that maybe you would vote to kill the filibuster, wouldn't that give Republicans an incentive to actually negotiate because old Joe Manchin is out there and who knows what he's going to do?" Wallace continued. "By taking it off the table, haven't you empowered Republicans to be obstructionists?"

"I don't think so," Manchin said. "Because we have seven brave Republicans that continue to vote for what they know is right and the facts as they see them, not worrying about the political consequences. I'm just very hopeful and I see good signs. Give us some time."

Wallace pointed out that the filibuster was used by Republicans as recently as two weeks ago to kill a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building — a measure Manchin supported. "Question: Aren't you being naive about this continuing talk about bipartisan cooperation?" he asked.

"I'm not being naive," Manchin said. "I think he's 100 percent wrong in trying to block all the good things that we're trying to do for America. It would be a lot better if we had participation and we're getting participation."

Earlier Sunday morning, The West Virginia Democrat also penned a biting critique of the For the People Act, an ambitious piece of federal legislation meant to counter a spate of extremely restrictive state-level Republican voting laws. 

In the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia's capital city newspaper, Manchin called the effort "partisan" and decried any efforts at election reform that do not engender bipartisan support.

"I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy," he wrote. "Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won't instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it."

Manchin instead offered his support to another bill, called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would institute a federal approval process for state-level changes to election law in order to protect minority communities. As an example of the bill's bipartisan roots, he offered up Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska as a supporter — though the bill is still a far cry from the 60-vote majority needed to pass legislation under the filibuster rules Manchin continues to support.

By Brett Bachman

Brett Bachman was the Nights/Weekend Editor at Salon.

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