Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Tuesday called a meeting with a group of civil rights leaders "constructive," but said it didn’t change his opposition to a Democrat-led election overhaul bill.
In remarks to reporters, Manchin said that "there was nothing basically for-or-against. ... Basically everyone's position was discussed," The Hill reported.
Pressed if the meeting changed his position on the "For the People Act," he added: "No, I don't think anybody changed positions on that."
According to The Hill, Manchin met with NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, as well as National Urban League President Marc Morial, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Lawyers’ Committee President Damon Hewitt, National Council of Negro Women President Johnnetta Cole, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights interim President and CEO Wade Henderson, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President Melanie Campbell.
The centrist Manchin, who plays a key role in the divided Senate, described the meeting as a listening session in which everyone described their position, telling reporters it was a "very, very good meeting."
"I'm very honored that we all got the chance to speak, listen to each other. That's really what it's about. We learned and listened," he said, The Hill reported.
"We had a constructive conversation. I think everybody pretty much knows the importance of what we're doing. And I think I'm very much concerned about our democracy, protecting people's voting rights," Manchin added.
The NAACP announced last week Johnson and other civil rights leaders would sit down with Manchin to discuss voting rights legislation. Advocates are trying to increase pressure on congressional Democrats to pass election and voting legislation as Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country have debated and passed laws on access to the ballot.
"The goal of the meeting was to build and establish a relationship, and we met that goal," Johnson told The Hill after the meeting, describing all involved parties as being committed to moving the discussion forward in the hope of finding "a solution to protect our Constitution and protect the rights of voters."
Manchin declined to say if he'd support bringing up the bill for a debate. If he did, that would give Democrats a symbolic victory of being able to put up 50 votes, even though it will fall short of the 60 votes needed to advance given GOP opposition, The Hill noted.
Instead, he’s urging his party to focus on a bill, named after the late Georgia Democrat Rep. John Lewis to strengthen the 1965 Voting Rights Act after its preclearance formula was gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
Johnson noted Manchin "expressed his support" for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act during the meeting, something that civil rights leaders were "encouraged" by.
"It’s going to get messy," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the good-government organization Democracy 21, who helped draft HR1 in 2017. "What Manchin said is not the final word, as far as we’re concerned."
"I don’t believe he is prepared to go down in history as the senator that denied millions of eligible citizens, and in particular people of color, the opportunity to vote," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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