Negotiating the For the People Act?

Kinda, sorta, maybe, but probably not really.

As readers know, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the only Senator not to currently be a co-sponsor of what was HR1 and is now S1, otherwise known as the “For the People Act.” Indeed, James Joyner and Kingdaddy both discussed Manchin’s op/ed wherein he explained why he would not support an action owing to his belief that voting reform bills ought to be bipartisan.

To give Manchin a modicum of credit (an action unlikely to be welcomed by the audience), he did try to put his legislative behavior where his mouth was by proposing potential compromises over the bill. Via WaPo earlier this week: Manchin outlines demands on voting legislation, creating an opening for potential Democratic compromise.

three-page memo circulated by Manchin’s office this week indicates the West Virginia centrist’s willingness to support key provisions of the For the People Act, the marquee Democratic bill that the House passed in March — including provisions mandating at least two weeks of early voting and measures meant to eliminate partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts

But Manchin’s memo also sketches out several provisions that have historically been opposed by most Democrats, including backing an ID requirement for voters and the ability of local election officials to purge voter rolls using other government records.

According to two Democratic aides familiar with Manchin’s views, he has also signaled to colleagues that he opposes a public financing system for congressional elections that has emerged as one of the most controversial parts of the For the People Act. The aides spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe Manchin’s private communications with other lawmakers.

The most important part of Manchin’s memo, in terms of what could theoretically form a compromise point, is putting a national voter ID standard on the table (a fairly mild one) for national standards for nonpartisan districting rules. He also proposed to make election day a national holiday.

His proposal does remove some of the campaign finance reform provisions of the current version, but not all.

As it pertain to voter ID, Manchin’s proposal would allow usage of items like utility bills (a long-standing practice in many places) as ID. That would preclude some of the problems of voter ID requirements. My views on voter ID remain the same insofar as I fully understand the goal and support it in the abstract, but object to voter ID rules when they can result in segments of the population being limited in their ability to vote. I support free, easy to obtain, universal IDs along with universal registration. Indeed, if Republicans really are committed to stopping in-person voter fraud (which, by the way, is extremely rare) then I would gladly offer free, universal IDs as part of a compromise.

A federal regulation implementing nonpartisan districting itself is worth making a deal (a deal that the GOP is unlikely to want to take) because while it does not fix the real problems with single-seat plurality districts electing a too-small House of Representatives, it would nonetheless be a real democratic reform.

Rich Hasen, writing at Slate is correct about how Democrats should react: Democrats Should Leap at the Chance to Take Joe Manchin’s Deal.

It includes a number of the most important voting rights and campaign finance priorities of the original bill, including a requirement of 15 days of early voting in federal elections, automatic voter registration, limits on partisan gerrymandering, and improved campaign finance disclosure. He’s also on board with extending campaign finance provisions to communications on the internet and to currently nondisclosing “dark money” groups, prohibiting false information about when, where, and how people vote, and an updated preclearance process.

But, of course, if one was looking for the Republicans to respond to offer with counters of their own, one would be mistaken. As Greg Sargent put it in an opinion piece in WaPo: Joe Manchin reaches out to Republicans, and they slap him in the face.

Indeed, instead of taking the proposal as an attempt at negotiation, Republicans seized on the fact that Stacey Abrams endorsed Manchin’s proposal. As Sargent notes:

“When Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Senator Manchin’s proposal,” Blunt told reporters, “it became the Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute.”

The careful observer will note that nothing substantive about the proposal itself changed when Abrams endorsed it. What changed is that Republicans now get to associate it with Abrams, rather than Manchin.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also signaled that this will be the GOP approach, putting out a statement denouncing Manchin’s proposal as “the plan endorsed by Stacey Abrams.”

All of this underscores the fact the Republicans are not interested in negotiating on these issues. Because, let it be underscored, inaction is to their advantage. They can get a lot more of what they want (i.e., fewer voters) by state level actions. Further, within the Congress all they are have to do is precisely nothing to stop the FTPA as long as the Senate is governed by super-majority requirements.

Indeed, Republicans here are using this offer by Manchin to generate talking points for their 2022 mid-term campaign. Linking the proposal to the liberal Black lady from Georgia (one of the ground zeroes of the Big Lie) rather than the old white dude from West Virginia is just a way to agitate their base and to help fundraising, which is their general legislative strategy.

One ought not have any illusions that whatever one’s personal perfect reform agenda would pass the Senate if there was no filibuster, but by the same token some version of the FPTA and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would pass if the Senate was governing by majority rule. As such, maybe all this helps Joe Manchin understand the situation and shift his thinking, but then again, probably not.

One thing is for certain: the GOP preference here is to do nothing. They are highly unlikely to be enticed into a compromise deal to get, say, some form of universal ID, because they do sincerely prefer decentralized rules and, really, their goals are truly more about making voting more difficult, not easier.

Look, I would like to think that the public posturing by GOP Senators is just that and that they are actually members of the caucus who are willing to negotiate behind closed doors, but I am not going to hold my breath. It would take 10 Republicans to break the filibuster, and that just seems to be a road too far.

If there are any real negotiations to be had, it will have to be within Joe Manchin’s own mind as he considers whether his fantasies of bipartisanship are achievable or not–and more specifically how he thinks all of this affect his re-election dreams.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Ironically, if Manchin’s goal is to actually preserve the filibuster, he damaged his own long term goal by publicly taking filibuster reforms off the table and assuring the Republicans that there’s no cost whatsoever for complete obstructionism.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    Manchin wants a bipartisan bill not out of any principled position but because he doesn’t want to have to pick sides on anything controversial. I’m sure he has never had illusions that Mitch and the Koch dynasty would ever allow Senators to vote for something that would protect the votes of dark skinned people. “Bipartisan” is just his attempt to avoid taking sides.

    I think there is a fair to middling chance he will flip to being a Republican. The only thing that differentiates West Virginia from Alabama politically (or socially, culturally or economically) was its strong history of unionization. But that is dying out, leaving the State squarely in the R column. He is probably trying to figure out how to craft a deal that keeps the Republicans from primarying him. My guess is that he will negotiate a deal, flip, the Republicans will shit on the deal the minute after he makes his announcement, and he will lose in the next primary.

  3. Stormy Dragon says:


    My theory is he’s waiting for a supreme court vacancy, so he can dramatically flip the Senate, blocking Biden’s SCOUTS nominee, and become a MAGA hero for his most epic ownage of the libs.

  4. @MarkedMan: I actually think a flip to the GOP is unlikely. He would likely lose a primary against a “real” Republican while, at the same time, alienating his existing support base.

  5. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan: I think Manchin is just kind of dumb. He was genuinely shocked that the Republicans blocked an independent commission on January 6th, for instance.

    He wants the Senate to go back to what it was a generation ago, and recognizes that changing the rules won’t make that happen. But he can’t quite see that nothing is going to make that happen.

    He needs to be hit upside the head with the Clue-by-Four so he gets a clue. He is currently helping to craft the Clue-by-Four.

  6. Michael Cain says:

    I would add the argument that Manchin is a former term-and-a-half governor. Speaking broadly, former governors have an aversion to the federal government telling states how to do things except in egregious cases. From that perspective there is much to dislike in HR1/S1 — it dictates how states must conduct redistricting and elections in painful detail whether they’ve been behaving badly or not. I have a suspicion that if you could get a couple of beers into John Hickenlooper, who oversaw the implementation of Colorado’s vote-by-mail system as governor, John would share a number of things he dislikes about HR1/S1.

  7. Jay L Gischer says:

    I think it’s fair that Stacey Abram’s swift endorsement does give Republicans a political problem. She is a Democratic favorite, therefore unpopular among Republican voters. It would have been better for her to hold out for the other one for a long time, and only “cave” after some Republican legislators signed on.

    It’s quite possible that wouldn’t matter, but the political problem is real.

  8. Jax says:

    @Jay L Gischer: It gives Republicans political ammunition that Stacey Abrams has endorsed it. She is the base’s new bogeyman, although they’ll SWEAR it’s not because they’re racist. Narrator Voice: It’s because they’re effing racists, and Stacey Abrams personifies everything about strong, intelligent women with dark skin that they hate. I wish she had held out longer, too, just to let some of the ideas in Manchin’s proposal to percolate before the mousetrap of their minds snapped shut as soon as they heard she’d endorsed it.

    And Lindsey Graham’s histrionics….”biggest power grab in history”….I swear I’ve heard Lindsey say that about almost every policy Dems have put forward since the election.