An open letter addressed to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) from Alabama coach Nick Saban and other prominent West Virginia sports figures was edited before publication to remove a footnote clarifying that Saban does not support nuking the Senate filibuster.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue told AL.com that the footnote was left out of the final letter with Saban's agreement after they decided it would be inappropriate.
“Coach Saban and I agreed that since the letter focused on the merits of the Freedom to Vote Act and the filibuster had not been discussed with everyone signing the letter, it was unnecessary to include the filibuster footnote in the letter to be publicly distributed,” Tagliabue said. “As a result, our press statement along with the letter released publicly did not address the filibuster issue.”
Tagliabue was a signatory on the Jan. 13 letter, joined by NBA legend Jerry West, former West Virginia University athletic director and NFL Houston Oilers player Oliver Luck, and former Buffalo Bills linebacker Darryl Talley. They had urged Manchin to support passage of the Freedom to Vote Act, a federal overhaul of U.S. elections that would override election security laws passed by Republican legislatures in several states and create federal standards for U.S. elections.
Democrats sought to change the Senate rules in order to remove the 60-vote threshold to overcome a legislative filibuster and pass their election bill. But Manchin, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), would not support any changes to the filibuster, frustrating their colleagues and stalling any piece of President Joe Biden's legislative agenda that lacks bipartisan support.
On Tuesday, CNN's Kaitlan Collins reported that Saban had initially asked to include a footnote stating his opposition to eliminating the filibuster to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.
“Coach Saban is not in favor of getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate. He believes this will destroy the checks and balances," the footnote said.
But when the letter was made public ahead of a Senate vote to end the filibuster, Saban's footnote was gone.
Asked about the letter and the filibuster Tuesday, Manchin bristled at the exclusion of Saban's footnote.
“Nick Saban at the bottom of his letter -- which they didn’t put, Paul Tagliabue didn’t put what Nick Saban wrote at the bottom, his footnote, he supports the filibuster,” Manchin told reporters. “Do not get rid of the filibuster. Now why did he automatically leave that out?”
He reiterated that he supports Democratic efforts to reform elections but not by nuking the filibuster.
“Nick Saban’s letter was straight on. They all [the co-signers] want the right to vote, right? We all want the right to vote,” Manchin said Tuesday. “I think everyone — we should all support the right to vote. But not breaking the rules.”
On Thursday, after Democrats failed to kill the filibuster and pass their election bill, Manchin publicly thanked Saban, his longtime friend and supporter, for agreeing with him.
"Coach Saban is exactly right: you cannot throw the filibuster out and expect the legislative process to work better," Manchin tweeted, highlighting the footnote.
Saban's support for the Democrats' election bill drew harsh criticism from congressional Republicans, who oppose the bill.
“Nick Saban should focus on winning National Championships instead of destroying our elections,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said in a since-deleted tweet.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) roasted Saban and the others who signed the letter in a video posted by FreedomWorks, a conservative and libertarian grassroots organization.
“They use that term on purpose, ‘voting rights,’ because who could possibly be against voting rights?” Roy said, commenting on the Democrats' bill.
“For example, allow me to quote from acclaimed election history and law experts Jerry West, Nick Saban, Paul Tagliabue, and company, quote, ‘In the last year, some 20 states have enacted dozens of laws that restrict voting access and allow local officials or state legislatures to interfere inappropriately with federal election outcomes, motivated by the unanticipated outcomes of recent close elections conducted with integrity,’ they say. ‘These state laws seek to secure partisan advantage by eliminating reliable practices with proven safeguards and substituting practices ripe for manipulation,'” he said.
“No doubt these famed election law experts spent the weekend reading the federal legislation for which they were lobbying, because, I mean, I got the 700-page bill at 11:30 last Thursday night before voting on it on Friday,” he continued.
“I assume they read it thoroughly over the weekend, as my staff stayed up into the middle of the night doing, to actually see what was in the bill. I assume, too, that they know, for example, that the bill would lead to completely outlawing or eliminating voter identification.
“Do they know that four in five Americans, 80%, support requiring voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot? I know my colleagues are sure fine with everybody having to show a voter identification with vax cards all across this country, including the nation’s capital. Do they know that Delaware and Connecticut require photo or non-photo ID?"
Concluding, Roy sardonically said he was "certain that they have studied the intricacies of Texas law before disparaging it."
"I’m sure they spent time looking at that. Or, say, studied the Georgia election law, at least a little better than studying the University of Georgia’s, say, defense," he added.
The Georgia Bulldogs defeated Saban's Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship earlier this month.