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Manchin, Civil Rights Leaders Meet To Discuss Voting Rights Legislation

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Quote, "a very constructive meeting" - that is how civil rights leaders are describing their meeting this morning with Senator Joe Manchin. The West Virginia Democrat called it, quote, "very productive." Now, this meeting was to discuss two pieces of voting rights legislation currently waiting on votes in the Senate. Manchin has already said he will not support the For the People Act. That's the more sweeping of the two bills. And while today's meeting might have been constructive, might have been productive, it does not look like he's budging from that stance. Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, was in the meeting. She is with us now.

Welcome.

MELANIE CAMPBELL: Hi. Thank you so much. Thanks so much. Honored to be with you today.

KELLY: We are honored to have you with us. Thanks for joining us. So just to make clear the stakes here, without all of the Democratic senators, including Senator Manchin, it doesn't look like Democrats can get this passed. There are no Republicans saying they'll vote for it. And Senator Manchin laid out in a big op-ed that's why he's against this big voting rights bill. He says voting rights legislation needs to have bipartisan support. This doesn't have it. So let's start there. Does he have a point? Wouldn't voting rights legislation have way more legitimacy if Democrats and Republicans both supported it?

CAMPBELL: Well, it's a mixed bag where we are with voting rights in this country right now. We know that we have so many states that are, at the same time as we're trying to pass federal legislation to try to restore voting rights from a federal level, federal, we also have two states that are passing voter suppression laws all over the country.

KELLY: Yeah.

CAMPBELL: So today, you know, people characterize it the way they characterize it. I would say, when we say constructive, why is it constructive? Because we were able to share with Senator Manchin our perspectives, the history of why it's important - recent history and history that goes way back when it comes to the fact that for African Americans, other people of color, poor folks, voting rights and the ability to cast one's vote without barriers is something this country is constantly hasn't been able to - we've had to fight for. And...

KELLY: But if your goal is to pass - get some kind of voting rights legislation passed, did you get any sense that he's budging from his position, which is he's going to vote against it?

CAMPBELL: I will say this to you. He didn't say that no, he wouldn't change his mind. It wasn't about that. It was more about what needs to be in the bill - in these bills. And so what we did do is really talk about both - the For the People Act, the John Lewis Act, also - we also talked about George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and also really challenge him around his stance on the filibuster, because even if he said he supports it, if we don't change the filibuster, we still don't move the bill. And so for us, it was really one - I had never met Senator Manchin. And so several people I know in that meeting had never met with him. So he has a role to - obvious role to play because of the fact that the Senate is so tight as far as power dynamics. And so for us, it's important that we meet with folks. Did we change his mind? I don't know if we changed his mind or not, but I know he listened. He listened intently. We had the dialogue that said we would continue. We would do a follow-up at some point soon - from that meeting. And there are more people that we need to meet with.

KELLY: Yeah. Now, he did - forgive me for jumping in, but he does support the other voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Would passing that bill be enough for you and for other leaders?

CAMPBELL: Well, it's about the reality of what's happening. Let's say this. Had there not been this tsunami of voter suppression laws that are passed all over the country, it would have gone a lot further than it will now. Because what you have are the ways people vote, the things that are about having the ability, the power to elect candidates of choice, the impact of money in politics, there's a lot that's in the For the People Act because we all know. So there's a lot there. And so the idea of trying to lay out for him our civil rights community's perspective...

KELLY: Right. And I'm trying to pin you down on if he's not going to vote for one, but he says he would support the John Lewis Act, would that be - would something be better than nothing from where you sit?

CAMPBELL: I'm answering as succinctly as I can. There's more there that needs to be there. Both of these bills are important because there's so much happening that when John Lewis Act bill was introduced last year, this wasn't happening. So it's also dealing with the reality of where we are now when it comes to what's happening with state attacks on voting rights across this country. We have to address it.

KELLY: All right. That is Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and one of the civil rights leaders who met with Senator Manchin this morning.

Ms. Campbell, thank you.

CAMPBELL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.