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WaPo: Let's face it, Dems' voting-overhaul bills are all but dead

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Let’s face it, both HR1 and its Senate counterpart S1 have been dead on arrival all along. The nature of narrowly divided chambers of Congress didn’t impart any hint of humility to Democratic leadership, so its realities will end up humiliating them — and perhaps especially Chuck Schumer in particular.

Rather than work with Republicans on a bipartisan approach to improving voting systems and election laws, Democrats used the January 6 riot and state-level reactions to the election as an excuse to federalize elections. They’re blaming Joe Manchin for the inevitable death of this approach, the Washington Post reports, but Manchin’s hardly the only obstacle in their path:

A Senate committee on Tuesday reached a partisan deadlock over Democrats’ sprawling overhaul of federal election, ethics and campaign finance law — the For the People Act, also known as H.R. 1 or S. 1 — and there is no clear path to breaking it. A Thursday lunch meeting of Democratic senators to discuss a way forward did not produce any breakthroughs, and lawmakers, aides and activists said they have little more than blind hope that one will materialize.

Leaving the meeting, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a lead author of the For the People Act, said that progress “starts with the conversation among the senators, getting focused on it, getting familiar with the details, getting all the questions answered . . . That’s a conversation we really started in full focus today.”

Yet the most important Democrat to the fate of voting legislation didn’t even attend the meeting and thus wasn’t part of the discussion. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) was in his home state, attending an event with first lady Jill Biden and actress Jennifer Garner — not huddled in a Capitol Hill conference room seeking a way forward.

Manchin is the only Senate Democrat not to have co-sponsored the bill, and he has expressed serious misgivings about the For the People Act — and, more generally, moving forward on any type of voting legislation without Republican buy-in.

“I think it’s too darn broad, and we got no bipartisan support,” he told reporters Wednesday. “The country is more divided today than it’s ever been.”

In other words, nothing has changed since these bills first got introduced. Democrats crafted both versions as though they had sole control of Congress, but of course they do not. Even if they could convince Manchin to support the bill, they still need 60 votes in the Senate, not 51. They can name these bills anything they want, but if they want to pass them into law, they’ll need ten Senate Republicans to vote in favor. The only way to get that is to work with Republicans in drafting the legislation.

The Post mentions that Democrats are frustrated that Manchin won’t overturn the filibuster to eliminate that need for engagement, but that’s also old news and Manchin’s not the only obstacle there either. Kyrsten Sinema has been even more opposed than Manchin to a change or elimination of the filibuster, and her Arizona colleague Mark Kelly belatedly (and somewhat ambiguously) chimed in to support Sinema. Progressives have been attacking Manchin and Sinema as “racists” ever since, which needless to say hasn’t wooed either of them off that position.

The engagement is the point for Manchin, anyway. He announced his opposition to partisan voting-process legislation last week, which again means that Democrats would only get to 49 at best regardless of the status of the filibuster. Manchin, and presumably other Senate Democrats (Manchin claims six votes at least) would rather focus on areas of bipartisan progress rather than majoritarian futility. That shouldn’t have required a public statement, either; competent leadership would have sussed out the caucus and figured out that S1 was DOA already.

Instead, both Nancy Pelosi and Schumer have publicly raised expectations for passage of their bills. That’s easy for Pelosi, who only needs a single vote over opposition, and she managed to deliver that. Schumer, on the other hand, knew full well that he couldn’t possibly deliver 60 votes on a radical federalization of election laws, but insisted that he could. And raising those expectations might have some very serious consequences when Schumer inevitably delivers the failure everyone could see coming for the last two months:

Schumer — who is up for reelection in 2022 and trying to keep Democrats in control of the Senate — finds himself trying to juggle competing interests over the fate of the For the People Act, a top legislative priority for the party.

At one end, he’s dealing with a progressive base that wants to get the House-passed bill across the finish line and isn’t interested in substantially narrowing the legislation to make it happen. At the other is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the biggest holdout who has shown no signs of budging, with others predicting the legislation will need changes if Democrats hope to secure enough votes on their side for passage.

Schumer is supportive of the bill and he’s publicly made big promises to Democratic voters, saying “failure is not an option.”

Failure is not an option? Failure is a certainty, and it’s an eminently foreseeable outcome. There isn’t even a path to success in this case, and yet Schumer kept selling this as achievable. That puts the failure entirely on Schumer’s shoulders, and in this case, he’ll reap what he’s sown.