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If someone asked you who the most powerful person on the Capitol is, two names come immediately to mind: Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the majority leaders of both Houses. You might even think of Kamala Harris, who has the tie vote in a split senate Senate as Vice President.
But none of them are the most powerful person on Capitol Hill.
Does Joe Manchin ring a bell? Probably not, he’s a far cry from a household name, but in an increasingly polarized country and in a hugely radicalized Democratic Party, his kind is a dying breed: the moderate Democrat from a rural state.
And this makes him the most powerful man on Capitol Hill. In a Senate with a 50/50 split, the Democratic Party needs his vote to be able to pass laws and Manchin has already refused to follow the party on a number of issues.
Who is Joe Manchin?
Joe Manchin was a widely popular governor in West Virginia who now is in his third term as a Senator.
He has survived seeing his state becoming a Republican powerhouse. When he was governor, his state had a Democratic legislature, governor, both Senators were Democrats, and two of the three Representatives were Democrats. Fast forward to 2021, and he is the sole state-wide West Virginia politician from the Democratic Party, the three Representatives are Republican, the legislature is Republican, and the Democratic Party hasn’t won the state in the presidential elections since 1996 (and lost by more than 40 points in 2020).
Why has Manchin survived? Aside from his popularity, because of his moderation.
That doesn’t make Joe Manchin a sort of hidden Republican, but he’s hard to classify and generally unpredictable. In 2015, he voted to remove federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but then in 2017, he voted to preserve it. He voted to confirm most of Donald Trump’s cabinet and Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice. Yet, he voted against Trump’s 2017 tax reform. He opposed most of Obama’s migration policy but also opposed Trump’s family separation policy. He opposes packing the court but also opposed Amy Coney Barret’s nomination to the Supreme Court. During the Trump administration, he voted for Trump’s proposals 50.4% of the time, over 10% more than any current Democrat in Congress.
He has risen to prominence in the last few months because when the Democratic Party expected a major win in the Senate, he voiced opposition to many of the most radical Democratic institutional proposals: abolishing the filibuster and increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court; and he also opposed some of the radical social proposals, such as “Medicare for All” and defunding the police.
What will Manchin do with his power?
Joe Manchin will certainly help Republicans avoiding some of the most radical proposals of the Democratic Party in the Senate. According to the Charleston Gazzette Mail, a local West Virginia outlet, he said: “I’m going to be in a very unique position because of my voting pattern for [the last] 10 years.”
For example, regarding one of the most-discussed issues right now, the COVID stimulus package, he didn’t oppose another round of stimulus, but said he preferred targeted relief. Thus, his vote will be vital for Democrats to pass one of Biden’s greatest campaign promises.
He has shelved the dreams of the most radical members of the Democratic Party to pack the Supreme Court, eliminate the filibuster in the Senate, and DC and Puerto Rico statehood (which would give the Democratic Party four easy Senate seats and a handful of them in the House) at least for the next two years.
Before the election, many Senators and Representatives said they supported increasing the number of justices in the Supreme Court, in an effort to change the current balance, as the Court leans conservative. And some also wanted to eliminate the filibuster, a parliamentary rule that allows the party in the minority to delay and even block legislation. How? Because the Senate needs 60 votes to invoke cloture and then vote on a proposal (which only needs a simple majority to pass).
Nominations to Cabinet and judicial positions only need a simple majority, meaning that if Joe Manchin feels that one of Biden’s nominees is too radical, the Democrats will have a hard time.
“The minority is as important as the majority,” Manchin said.
In another interview with the New York Times, he said the end of the filibuster would “end the Senate.”
“We’ve harmed the Senate enough with the nuclear option on the judges. We’re making lifetime appointments based on a simple majority. The minority should have input — that’s the whole purpose for the Senate. If you basically do away with the filibuster altogether for legislation, you won’t have the Senate. You’re a glorified House. And I will not do that.”
“If you’ve got to blow up the Senate to do the right thing, then we’ve got the wrong people in the Senate, or we have people that won’t talk to each other.”
Why radical democrats hate Joe Manchin
Of course, this moderate and thoughtful position has gained Joe Manchin heavy criticism.
In a November tweet, he said “Defund the police? Defund, my butt. I’m a proud West Virginia Democrat. We are the party of working men and women. We want to protect Americans’ jobs & healthcare. We do not have some crazy socialist agenda, and we do not believe in defunding the police.”
In an interview, he explained further why Medicare for All, one of the slogans of the most radical wing of the Democratic Party, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and others, is not viable.
“Hell, we’re not able to take care of the Medicare for some that have earned it. I said, Christ, you want Medicare for all, you’d better take care of the some you already owe it to.”
And he also voiced his support for bipartisanship to find a middle way in healthcare: “Let’s work and clean up the Affordable Care Act. Let’s get some Republicans to help us truly get a good healthcare bill. Some people want to know what we stand for, these are the things we’ve always stood for.”
Of course, this was disliked by many radical Democrats who don’t believe in building consensus and can’t do anything else but demonize half of the country.
One of these was, predictably, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) who quickly attacked Manchin answering his tweet with a picture of her dissaprovingly staring at him (but then erased the picture).
Manchin’s realistic approach is much disliked by many Democrats, especially radical leftists who are Representatives and Senators from safe districts or states, such as AOC or Bernie Sanders. People who don’t really need to compete to win their elections beyond, maybe, the primary elections. Thus, they can bring as many pipe dreams as they want to the table because where they’re from, the candidate can be a blue chair and would beat Abraham Lincoln’s reincarnation.
In his interview with the New York Times, when asked about the role he will play in this Senate, he said, “I’m pretty independent. If it makes sense, I go home and explain it. If it doesn’t make sense, I don’t. Sometimes that’s a real strong Democratic issue they’re really happy with, and sometimes it’s a Republican issue they’re happy with. I think I’m the most moderate or centrist — as far as centrist voting — than anybody else in Congress.”
The thing that people like AOC does not seem to understand is that approaches like hers only work with urban elites, which what the Democratic Party is increasingly becoming.
“We are the party of the working men and women, and we forget how to talk about that in a meaningful way,” he said in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
Ultimately, the reason many Democrats hate Joe Manchin because he does not believe in a Nanny State and oppose any legislation that may be associated with the radical left.
“Don’t just keep giving handouts. People just have the perception Democrats just want to give away everything. I don’t. I wasn’t raised that way. I’ll help you if you’re down and out. (…) but by golly, if you can contribute, get off your ass and start working.”
The next two years, at least, will be interesting. Democrats were expecting a revolution that completely overhauled the American political system. Now, they will have to fight tooth and nail every day to convince a stubborn, gun-owner West Virginian to at least pass some of their proposals.
Capitol Hill has a king, and his name is Joe Manchin III. Long may he reign!
Edgar is political scientist and philosopher. He defends the Catholic intellectual tradition. Edgar writes about religion, ideology, culture, US politics, abortion, and the Supreme Court. Twitter: @edgarjbb_ // Edgar es politólogo y filósofo. Defiende la tradición intelectual católica. Edgar escribe sobre religión, ideología, cultura, política doméstica, aborto y la Corte Suprema. Twitter: @edgarjbb_