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By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin concluded a meeting with major civil rights groups on Tuesday giving no indication he would drop his opposition to a sweeping elections and campaign reform bill sought by his fellow Democrats.

Manchin announced on Sunday 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, including President Joe Biden, 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.”

Following last November’s presidential election won by Democrat Biden, former-President Donald Trump has unleashed a barrage of unsubstantiated accusations that the vote was riddled with fraud and was “stolen” from him.

Since then, Republicans in state legislatures across the country have attempted to tighten voting procedures in a way that civil rights advocates said would make it more difficult for minorities to participate.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson issued a statement following the meeting with Manchin saying, “Over the past few months, we have witnessed an assault on the right to vote by state legislatures across the nation.”

“We are committed to ongoing conversations with Senator Manchin, as well as all senators, as we work to pass federal legislation that will protect our most sacred and fundamental right, the right to vote,” he added.

Other groups participating in the meeting included the National Urban League and National Action Network. They 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.

Besides citing his opposition to the “For the People Act,” the election-reform bill, Manchin also has said that he would oppose changing Senate rules to modify or scrap the filibuster. It would take the support of all 48 Senate Democrats and two independents who caucus with them to alter the filibuster rule.

Manchin on Tuesday sidestepped a reporter’s question on whether he would even vote to allow the election reform legislation advance to a full debate.

Instead, he has voiced support for a narrower bill restoring a requirement that certain states and counties get federal approval before re-drawing congressional districts.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis)