Sen. Joe Manchin seems to believe upholding bipartisan sentiments equates to siding with white supremacists who have for centuries used voter intimidation tactics, chief among them lynchings, to run Black voters from the polls. Worse yet, the Democrat from West Virginia plans to actually act on the flawed premise by voting against federal legislation to protect Americans’ right to vote. In an op-ed for his hometown paper the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin claimed he would oppose the For the People Act, which the House passed but has failed to make it to the Senate. The legislation would expand ballot access by creating automatic voter registration throughout the country, restore the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expand early voting, and modernize voting systems.
”Throughout my tenure in politics, I have been guided by this simple philosophy — our party labels can’t prevent us from doing what is right,” Manchin wrote. “Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized.” Actually, all things have become “overtly politicized” due in large part to tenured Republicans who’ve worked to further inflate the ego of the man who has become the embodiment of politicization himself, former President Donald Trump.
Trump laughably claimed, by the way, in a speech Saturday night at the North Carolina Republican Party State Convention: "I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy, I am the one trying to save it. Please remember that." This is from the man so outraged that he lost a presidential election that he claimed widespread voter fraud and incited a deadly riot leading emboldened white supremacists to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
That claim has given Republican legislatures shared talking points in enacting harmful legislation to restrict the right to vote in at least 14 states, by The Washington Post’s count. In Arkansas and Montana, Republican governors signed bills into law to create or further restrict identification requirements for voting in person and through absentee ballots. Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming followed suit.
Texas would be on the list too if House Democrats hadn't literally walked out of legislative proceedings last Sunday, preventing Republicans from reaching the necessary quorum needed to pass a bill that would add a photo identification requirement to voting, ban drive-thru voting, cut early voting hours, and increase access for "partisan poll watchers." Activists have described the effort to cut early voting hours, specifically those on Sundays, as a direct attack on “Souls to the Polls,” programing aimed at encouraging Black churches to send their congregations to the polls following church services. "They want to create long lines so that people of color -- it's more difficult for them to vote on Sundays right after they go to church," Democratic Texas Rep. Rafael Anchiá told CNN. "That's really what this bill is about: to have a chilling effect on voters of all stripes, and especially hard hit will be people of color."
Vice President Kamala Harris called the Texas bill “yet another assault on our democracy” in a tweet on May 29. ”Congress needs to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. We need to make it easier for eligible voters to vote. Not harder,” Harris said in the tweet.
With regards to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Manchin wrote that he and his Republican colleague, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, are “urging Senate leadership to update and pass this bill through regular order.” His support is pretty hypothetical at this point though, considering Manchin's repeated opposition to efforts from Democrats to end the filibuster and actually ensure vital legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passes. A filibuster is an operational instrument requiring 60 votes instead of a simple majority to stall or block a vote, and it has been used by Senate Republicans to delay civil rights legislation for decades. Manchin accused Democrats of trying “to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past.”
“As a reminder, just four short years ago, in 2017 when Republicans held control of the White House and Congress, President Donald Trump was publicly urging Senate Republicans to eliminate the filibuster. Then, it was Senate Democrats who were proudly defending the filibuster. Thirty-three Senate Democrats penned a letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warning of the perils of eliminating the filibuster.
It has been said by much wiser people than me that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, what I’ve seen during my time in Washington is that every party in power will always want to exercise absolute power, absolutely. Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy.”
Manchin failed to mention how the cherished filibuster has been used historically to strip voting rights from Black communities throughout the country, with concentrated voter suppression efforts in the South. Journalist Ari Berman wrote a Mother Jones article describing the first filibuster Southern Democrats used to block civil rights legislation, specifically a House bill to send federal supervisors to protect voting, registration, and ballot tallies in the South in 1890. At the time, the Ku Klux Klan used violence and lynchings to intimidate Black communities given newly-protected voting rights through passage of the 14th Amendment on July 28, 1868.
Two months later, Mother Jones pointed out, Georgia’s mostly white legislature actually passed a bill to expel Black legislators. Henry McNeal Turner, one of the legislators, said in a historic speech to his peers on Sept. 3, 1868: "Am I a man? If I am such, I claim the rights of a man. Am I not a man because I happen to be of a darker hue than honorable gentlemen around me?”
By the time Massachusetts Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge sponsored his federal protection bill, legislators and activists alike had been fighting disenfranchisement and voter suppression for decades. “The Government which made the Black man a citizen of the United States is bound to protect him in his rights as a citizen of the United States, and it is a cowardly Government if it does not do it!” Lodge said.
Mississippi Democratic Sen. James George countered with “three marathon speeches in opposition,” Berman wrote. “It will never come to pass in Mississippi, in Florida, in South Carolina, or any other State in the South, in any State in the American Union, that the neck of the white race shall be under the foot of the Negro,” George said. What happened next is as much appalling as it is familiar.
"With the support of a group of Western Republicans from sparsely populated mining states who feared the expansion of suffrage to Chinese immigrants, Senate Democrats mounted a sneak attack on January 5, 1891," Berman wrote. "Democrats were quietly told to hastily assemble in the chamber. Democrat Isham G. Harris of Tennessee controlled the gavel while Vice President Levi Morton, a Republican who usually presided over the business of the Senate, was taking a leisurely lunch." Lodge's bill failed to pass in a 34-to-29 Senate vote.
The political parties have since switched. Legislative efforts to suppress the Black vote are less brazen, but make no mistake those attacks are just as harmful. They may be cloaked in a veil of attempted voter fraud protection, but legislators’ true aims are not difficult to decipher despite the party they belong to. As journalist David Dennis Jr. put it in a tweet after “He’s a Republican” trended on Twitter along with Manchin’s name on Sunday: “‘He’s a Republican’ is trending because it makes people feel better to equate white supremacy to republicanism as opposed to the actual truth that white supremacy is bipartisan.”
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