Manchin lobbies McConnell on election reform bill

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Democrats' efforts to rewrite federal elections laws on Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Joe Manchin met with McConnell just hours later to pitch the longshot bill anyway.

Senate Democrats Tuesday morning unveiled their second iteration of an election reform bill, the result of intra-party compromise after Manchin opposed the original version. Hours later, McConnell called the legislation "a solution in search of a problem" and promised that Republicans "will not be supporting it," dooming its chances unless the Senate changes its rules.

That didn't deter Democrats' key centrist.

"I work with everybody, I want to find out where they are at, what we can do, I'm working on the voting thing very hard and I'm out there talking to every Republican I can,” Manchin told reporters after the meeting. “I was seeing if there was a pathway forward.”

Still, the West Virginian’s entreaties to the GOP are unlikely to convince the necessary 10 Senate Republicans to sign onto the bill. The legislation so far has zero Republican cosponsors.

“This is not something that the federal government has been historically involved in for good reason," McConnell said Tuesday. "Every state conducts elections differently.”

The latest legislation, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would establish some federally mandated voting rules, such as requiring early voting options and expanding access to mail ballots, but is more scaled back than an original version that would have broadly remade the election process. The new bill could come to the Senate floor as early as next week.

Klobuchar in a statement Tuesday said that the legislation will “set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in.”

The latest package is meant to serve as a substitute for a sweeping piece of legislation that included a slew of ethics and campaign finance provisions that would have completely remade how candidates and officeholders can raise and spend money, along with the much-discussed election provisions. The House and Senate designated the original bill H.R. 1 and S. 1, respectively, to mark its importance to Democratic leadership.

The new version of the ethics and elections reform bill includes standards for states that require voter identification. But that provision isn't as strict as Manchin’s original proposal, which called for a nationwide ID requirement. Instead, the new proposed legislation lays out guideposts for states to follow if they were to institute voter ID.

In addition, lawmakers added a provision that’s intended to protect the certification of election results and independence of local officials. The legislation would also establish grants for states that would go toward election administration and would allow for states to opt in to public financing for House races, a scaled down version of the nationwide program originally in H.R. 1.

The compromise bill keeps a provision from the original version that would require a much larger swath of politically active groups to disclose their donors and adds more transparency requirements for online advertising, which have generally trailed TV ads.

The new bill also scraps a plan from H.R. 1 that would have required states to establish independent commissions for congressional redistricting. It would, however, ban partisan gerrymandering.

Democrats argue the legislation is necessary to combat laws in Republican-led states like Texas and Georgia that have added voting restrictions.

With Republicans largely opposed to the bill, final passage is impossible without changes to the upper chamber's rules. Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block H.R. 1, which previously passed the House in March, and argued the legislation amounts to a federal takeover of elections. Manchin meanwhile, had previously called the legislation too broad.

The latest election and ethics reform bill is the result of months of negotiation between Klobuchar, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as Democratic caucus members Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Angus King of Maine, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Alex Padilla of California and Jon Tester of Montana.

But without the support of 10 Senate Republicans, Klobuchar’s legislation will almost certainly face the same fate as the original package: a filibuster. Civil rights leaders have long warned that Senate Democrats must make a choice between protecting voting rights and the filibuster, and they have urged the caucus to at least carve out an exception to the rules for voting rights legislation.

“I always think we can get at least 10,” Manchin said Tuesday, citing the success of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. “I think it's very important, I'm working as hard as I can.”

Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have repeatedly said they have no interest in scrapping the filibuster, even if it's just for voting rights legislation, and Manchin said the topic didn’t come up in his meeting with McConnell. Some advocates for H.R. 1 have privately hoped that the impending filibuster of the election and ethics reform package will highlight Republicans stonewalling the legislation and get Manchin and others to reconsider their stance on Senate rules.

Schumer has not tipped his hand on rules changes. But the New York Democrat has vowed that “failure is not an option.”

"Let me be clear, Republicans refusing to support anything on voting rights is not an excuse for Democrats to do nothing," Schumer said Tuesday. "The Senate must act."

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