Manchin just got Republicans to admit their 'election fraud' concerns are nonsense

Catherine Rampell
Washington Post

Credit where due to Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.: The media seems to have missed it, but last week he got Republicans to admit to the "big lie." Whatever his Democratic colleagues' other beefs with him, they should celebrate this achievement.

Manchin has become the bane of progressives' existence. For lots of reasons.

He balked at raising the federal minimum wage to $15 or hiking the corporate tax rate to 28%. He opposes the For the People Act, his party's sweeping elections reform bill, because it lacks bipartisan support. Most consequentially, he refuses to nuke the filibuster and bristles at passing more legislation through reconciliation, arguing that major bills such as a proposed infrastructure package should have Republican buy in. Which of course gives Senate Republicans -- whose leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is "100 percent" focused on blocking the Biden agenda -- a de facto veto over the Biden agenda.

Manchin's more progressive co-partisans criticize him as willfully naive, or worse. He's the "new Mitch McConnell" voting to "preserve Jim Crow" and standing in the way of progress.

But on Wednesday, Manchin did something very clever when he offered a compromise on election-reform legislation.

In a memo, Manchin proposed building upon parts of the For the People Act and a narrower bill, known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, with a few amendments. His proposal would make Election Day a public holiday, require two weeks of early voting, automatically register voters through motor vehicle departments and eliminate partisan gerrymandering. It's not everything Democrats want -- and has some oversights -- but it addresses most of the party's goals for promoting free and fair elections.

Perhaps more important, from a political standpoint: Manchin's compromise completely undercuts Republicans' case for blocking reform.

It does this by including new requirements to safeguard election security, which is -- or was -- the top priority of Republicans concerned by "questions" the 2020 election supposedly raised.

For instance, Manchin's proposal includes a nationwide voter ID requirement, with a relatively broad range of documents allowed (such as utility bills). His framework also allows states to conduct purges of their voter rolls "by utilizing information derived from state and federal documents."

Manchin also conspicuously omitted Democratic initiatives that Republicans claim (without evidence) lead to voter fraud, such as mandatory same-day voter registration, stand-alone drop boxes and no-excuse absentee voting.

Democrats didn't love these choices, but key party leaders endorsed Manchin's framework as a useful compromise all the same.

Republicans, on the other hand, rejected the framework. Immediately, forcefully, unambiguously.

"It needs to be blocked," remarked Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who a week earlier praised Manchin as "saving our country" by encouraging bipartisanship.

The response from the left seems to be that this whole endeavor proves Manchin to be the guileless chump they always suspected he was. He gave Republicans what they said they wanted, and they still rejected his offer out of hand! To which my response is: Yes, he did. But focus on what that says about Republicans.

By ceding ground on "election security" and effectively taking the issue off the table, Manchin just proved Republicans never actually cared about election security. Not election security in the past -- i.e., the 2020 presidential election they pretend was "stolen" -- and not at some hypothetical point in the future. Their goal was always to use gerrymandering and voter suppression just to make it harder for Democrats to win elections.

Don't believe me? Look at the nonsense, dog-whistling excuses for why they absolutely, positively can't support Manchin's proposal.

McConnell comically accused Manchin's framework of supercharging "cancel culture," that all-purpose GOP boogeyman. He also warned that scary "computers" would take over the process for drawing political districts. How does he imagine partisan political consultants construct them now? With a paper map and an abacus?

Even more tellingly, McConnell and other colleagues such as Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., suggested that a tentative endorsement by a prominent Black voting rights activist had magically transformed Manchin's proposal into the "Stacey Abrams substitute, not the Joe Manchin substitute."

This is like the "one-drop rule" extended to legislation, as other commentators have observed. Republican senators have likewise repeatedly fear-mongered about Manchin's supposed assault on states' rights -- another fraught code word with a racist past.

Sure, maybe Manchin was surprised by Republicans' knee-jerk rejection of his completely reasonable compromise. Another way to interpret last week's events is that Manchin slyly revealed Republicans' stated concerns about stolen elections -- and their professed desire to work across the aisle -- as the baloney they always were.

And maybe, if his Democratic colleagues don't waste the opportunity, it'll give Manchin the political cover this red-state Democrat needs to vote just as they want him to.

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Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post. She frequently covers economics, public policy, immigration and politics, with a special emphasis on data-driven journalism. Before joining The Post, she wrote about economics and theater for the New York Times.