Seven U.S. civil rights leaders met with Senator Joe Manchin to urge the Democrat to drop his opposition to a sweeping election reform bill backed by his party, but the West Virginian emerged from the virtual meeting unmoved.
The bill is a Democratic response to a slew of measures making their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures, which voting-rights activists say would limit the ability of some voters to go to the polls.
The state bills’ backers contend they are needed to prevent election fraud, which is rare in the United States but which former President Donald Trump falsely and loudly claims resulted in his November loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.
“Democracy is under the kind of attack we have not seen since the Jim Crow days … this is not just the South. It’s all across the nation,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League civil rights organization, in a telephone interview after the meeting with Manchin. “This is a systematic effort to shrink the electorate.”
Morial said he hoped Manchin would agree to further talks.
Two days before the meeting, Manchin said he would oppose legislation already approved by the House of Representatives that would expand Americans’ ability to cast votes by mail, lengthen in-person voting hours and make certain campaign contributions more transparent.
The moderate senator from West Virginia, a state that is overwhelmingly Republican, has been under intense pressure from Democrats to support major legislative initiatives ranging from COVID-19 relief to policing and election reforms.
His support is crucial in the Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities.
Following the more than hour-long meeting conducted remotely, Manchin spoke briefly to reporters and described a conversation that was “respectful” and “excellent,” noting the talks would continue.
But he added, “I don’t think anybody changed positions.”
The NAACP and the National Action Network were also among the participants in the call.
The civil rights groups issued a joint statement in which they “conveyed to Senator Manchin that a minority of senators must not be able to abuse the filibuster to impede much needed progress.”
Under Senate rules, at least 60 votes of support are needed in the 100-member chamber to advance most legislation and end “filibusters” that prevent roll-call votes on bills.
Manchin also has said he would oppose changing Senate rules to modify or scrap the filibuster.
Instead, he has voiced support for a narrower bill restoring a requirement that certain states and counties get federal approval before redrawing congressional districts.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who last month said “100% of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” on Tuesday proclaimed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as “unnecessary.”