Prominent Black leaders took their case for restoring voting rights and passing S. 1, the For the People Act, directly to Sen. Joe Manchin Tuesday morning. NAACP President Derrick Johnson and other Black leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton and the heads of the National Urban League, the National Council of Negro Women, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights tried to convince the obstinate West Virginia Democrat that there's more at stake here than his ego.
"The right to vote is under attack," Johnson said in a statement before the meeting. "We must do everything we can to protect the American people's sacred right to participate in the democratic process. Our vote is our voice, and we will not be silenced." In addition to this full-court and direct press to try to budge Manchin, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the leader of the Poor People's Campaign, is going to lead a "Moral March on Manchin" next week in West Virginia as well as a "nonviolent direct action" targeting Manchin in Washington.
That meeting did not move Manchin. "I don't think anybody changed positions on [S. 1]," he told reporters afterward. It was a "constructive conversation," and "just an excellent meeting," and he is "very much concerned about our democracy." But he's not going to listen to these people who've devoted their entire professional and personal lives to advancing democracy because he's Joe Manchin and knows what's best. Also, he's got the Koch network on his side. They're who he really seems to be listening to.
The Koch network is doing him a real solid right now by running ads in West Virginia, and "specifically calls on its grassroots supporters to push Manchin, a conservative Democrat, to be against some of his party’s legislative priorities."
They've tailored their effort to Manchin, with an Americans for Prosperity (AFP) website they're calling "West Virginia Values," where they tell people to email Manchin and urge him to "to be The Voice West Virginia Needs In D.C.—Reject Washington's Partisan Agenda." It's almost like they're ghost-writing Manchin's statements about partisanship. They're sure going all out to make sure they're Manchin's best friends.
"Sen. Manchin has long blazed his own path, and on this issue, we agree: Extreme partisanship gets in the way of finding positive solutions," Lo Isidro, a spokesman for AFP, told CNBC. "Unfortunately, this bill [S. 1] and the tactics some are using to pass it would make it harder to work together—chilling debate, worsening partisanship, and setting up a false choice between voting rights and free speech." All hail the conquering trailblazer Joe Manchin.
Who's happy to repay the favor by calling the Kochs (checks notes) "job creators." No, really—he's claimed that in the past. "People want jobs. You don't beat up people. I mean, I don't agree with their politics or philosophically, [but he actually does] but, you know, they're Americans, they're doing—paying their taxes. […] They're not breaking the law. They're providing jobs."
Speaking of Manchin and ego, he stepped in it when he published that opinion piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, when he declared that he would not support S. 1, the For the People Act to restore voting rights and in addition would never vote to eliminate the filibuster. The Hill reports that "there appeared to be no heads up to the White House or key Democratic leaders that it was coming. And it was widely seen as an abrasive move." It was absolutely an abrasive move, and he did himself no favors with it among his colleagues or with President Joe Biden. It's the kind of arrogance that will make colleagues disinclined to help him out on his other legislative efforts. It makes him no friends, that's for sure.
He's also stretching the bounds of his friendship with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who he put on the spot when he declared that the two of them could get the John Lewis Voting Rights Act—which has not yet passed in the House this session—through the Senate. Right now Murkowski is the only Republican to endorse it. Asked if it was possible the two of them could find 10 Republicans to support it, she told NBC: "I don't know. I don't know. It's a challenging one. I think we just have to be honest with it. You've got to find an awful lot of Republicans to join us on this."
Even Murkowski's partner in "moderation," Susan Collins, won't publicly endorse the bill. Her office did not respond to NBC's request for comment. Sen. John Cornyn did comment to say he would talk to fellow Republicans to tank the bill. "It is basically doing through the back door what Democrats are trying to do through the front door on S.1 and H.R.1 [the For the People Act]," he said. "What I don't want to happen is if S.1 doesn't make it because people like Sen. Manchin are opposed to it that people say, 'Well, this is kind of a lesser included provision.' It's just as big of a problem as S.1." Asked if there were 10 Republicans who would support it, he said, "I hope not."
It would be remiss of me not to shout out to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema here now that Cornyn has exposed himself. The last we saw of Sinema was her little trip to the border with Cornyn, where she refused to explain why she blew off the Senate vote on the Jan. 6 commission, and gave an absolutely ignorant and ridiculous defense of keeping the filibuster. Listening to Manchin and Sinema talk on this makes it horrifyingly apparent that neither of them has bothered to read the extensive histories that we've all been shoving at them of the filibuster as a Jim Crow relic.
Manchin and Sinema both seem to be as incapable of being shamed as McConnell, so how a breakthrough is going to be made here isn't clear. But at this point, it's probably going to have to involve threats because they're certainly not going to do the right thing simply because it's the right thing for our democracy.