WASHINGTON — Texas Democrats got a meeting with a key senator Thursday as they push for federal voting rights legislation to pass. After meeting with state lawmakers who fled Texas, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, said the path to a national law is a pared-down bill.
“Make a piece of legislation, one piece of legislation that protects the rights of voting, the procedure of voting, democracy, the guardrails on democracy, that’s all. And there shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat [who] should oppose it,” Manchin told journalists who attended the closed-door meeting.
Texas state Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, attended the discussion at the U.S. Capitol and said while he would like to see the passage of a broad, far-reaching federal bill, working at the Texas Legislature has taught him to recognize the importance of incremental progress.
"If enough people can become convinced that that is the only path forward, I think there may be some chance of drawing some Republican support over when they feel less pressed by the larger objectives on the Democratic side. I think that's a potential path to getting something done, and it would address a lot of the concerns that we have in Texas," Johnson told Capital Tonight after the meeting.
Manchin told journalists he and the Texas Democrats have come to an agreement.
“Voters just want to vote, and so if we make sure that voters can get registered easily, can change their address easily, can vote by mail easily, can do drive-thru voting...if they have issues getting out of their car [or] mobility issues, they can get assistance from people that they trust, and all they have to do is ask for those people to assist them. Rather than have those people run the gauntlet of possible prosecution,” state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Bastrop, said.
Manchin said forget breaking the filibuster, the rule which requires two-thirds of Senators to advance legislation. The Democrat from West Virginia said a federal bill can be done without changing Senate rules, including a carveout on elections. That would mean they need some Senate Republicans to sign on.
“I certainly would not support anything that requires Texas legislators to come to Washington and ask the Biden Justice Department for permission to change our state laws,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.
Texas’ two GOP senators and the rest of their Republican caucus voted against debating previous voting bills. When asked by Capital Tonight if he would get behind a pared-down version of the bill, Cornyn said he would have to see.
“It depends on what’s in it, but (I) do not support the federal government preempting state election law, except to the extent necessary to protect minority voting rights,” Cornyn said.
As they continue to make their case to Congress, some Texas Democrats said Manchin's meeting leaves them optimistic.
“I’m hoping that it is a bipartisan goal that every eligible voter vote free of barriers, free of intimidation, free of threat of prosecution, and so that's why I share his enthusiasm and his optimism,” Eckhardt said.
Manchin is not the only Senate Democrat unwilling to break the filibuster. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is also a holdout, and the Texas Democrats hope to meet with her.