Democratic senator says he will vote against Biden voting rights bill

The conservative Democratic senator who holds a swing vote in the US Senate on Sunday vowed to block a bill overhauling US election law, presenting a major setback to Joe Biden’s efforts to reform voting rights.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, West Virginian senator Joe Manchin said the bill, which expands mail-in voting and lengthens the hours over which people can vote, was “the wrong piece of legislation to bring our country together and unite our country”.

In an op-ed published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin reiterated that he would not help Democrats scrap the US Senate’s arcane voting procedure, known as the filibuster, which requires a supermajority of 60 senators to sign off most pieces of legislation.

Biden has been pushing the For the People Act as Republicans have moved to curb access to voting in many US states they control, including Georgia, Florida and Texas. 

As the most conservative Democrat in a senate held by a wafer-thin margin, Manchin has emerged as a pivotal dealmaker. His frequent opposition to the president’s plans illustrates the difficulty Biden faces in passing major pieces of legislation though a divided Congress.

Biden is continuing to haggle with Republicans over his ambitious infrastructure bill, the proposed value of which has been lowered to around $1tn in talks with Republican lawmakers. In March, Biden set out proposals for $2.3tn in spending that would plough an unprecedented amount of federal money into the nation’s roads, bridges, transport hubs, water facilities and broadband networks.

Republicans insist that while more spending is needed to repair crumbling infrastructure, any plan needs to be pared back, especially after the trillions of federal dollars allocated earlier this year for Covid relief. 

They have also bristled at the president’s proposals to raise the corporate tax rate or increase taxes on America’s top earners to pay for the extra spending.

Manchin has made clear to the president that he expects the infrastructure package, called the American Jobs Plan, to pass with votes from both Democrats and Republicans. 

The second senator representing West Virginia, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, has become the chief negotiator for Republicans in the infrastructure talks. 

On Friday, people familiar with the talks between Biden and Capito said the president was prepared to drop his demands for an increase in the US corporate tax rate if enough Republicans agreed to support a surge in infrastructure spending. Biden and Capito are expected to meet again on Monday, as a self-imposed deadline to reach a bipartisan agreement looms. 

On Sunday, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said there continued to be “good faith efforts” from both Democratic and Republican negotiators, and that the president remained optimistic about securing a bipartisan agreement.

“The practice of legislating is much more art than science, and there’s no one better at it than President Biden,” Raimondo said on ABC’s This Week. 

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