Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) confirmed his opposition to the Democratic-sponsored “For the People” Act (H.R 1), which was approved by the House of Representatives in a vote along party lines on March 3rd. This is not the first time Manchin breaks rank with Democrats, as he has become the most important Senator for Biden’s legislative agenda in the evenly divided Senate. Manchin made his opposition to the bill public in a Charleston Gazette-Mail op-ed.
Manchin has a history of having an independent streak, with the West Virginian already being fundamental at sinking Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) back in February and also opposing the proposal by House Democrats to include a clause for a $15 wage rise in the relief bill.
H.R 1 too partisan and divisive for Manchin
Manchin lamented that the politics of voting laws have become too partisan and argued that having politicians who are either “needlessly restricting voting” or are ignoring the “need to secure our elections” will only destroy the nation’s confidence in the democratic process.
He noted that the proposed Democratic legislation, which intends to change how elections are held, has not garnered a single Republican vote. Manchin said that not even the GOP Senators who voted to convict Trump due to his role in the Capitol riots have supported the measure, asking if the same politicians who were congratulated by his side due to their opposition to actions that “undermined our democracy” are now “threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?”.
Manchin answered this question by saying that these types of partisan bills will only ensure that the currently toxic division endures and deepens. Manchin also made his argument for defending the Filibuster, a tool that many Democrats have pushed to eliminate, remembering that when Republicans had the control of both the House and the Senate, it was those same Democrats (and Mitch McConnell) who were openly defending the filibuster while Trump was pushing the GOP to scrap it.
Manchin continued to defend his view that eliminating the complicated parliamentarian tactic will only create a country where “one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants”.
While many Democrats have now pushed hard against the Filibuster, with Obama calling it a “Jim Crow Relic”, it is interesting that those same Democrats were the firsts defending the measure when a GOP government was in power, something freshman Senator Obama did in a speech in the Senate floor in 2005.
For the maverick senator, voting either for a purely partisan overhaul on the bedrock of our democracy (the right to vote) or supporting a fundamental change in the way the Senate operates will only “destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy”. While many progressives and democrat lawmakers are aching for implementing fundamental change while they can, Manchin seems to be far more worried about the long-term health of American democracy.
Manchin breaks rank with Democrats often, and they can’t stop him
Progressives have immediately pounced on the experienced Senator, with MSNBC anchor Mehdi Hasani dedicating an entire section on his Sunday’s tv show on the West Virginian, saying that despite Manchin saying voting is fundamental he “doesn’t want to do what needs to be done to save it”. Even President Biden had already hinted his discomfort with Manchin, when he said that he has not done more because there are “two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends”, making a not that subtle reference to Manchin and Krysten Synema (D-AZ).
Manchin appears genuinely concerned over the consequences of an overreach of the tight Democratic majority in Congress, to his Democrat colleague’s exasperation. He might not be the only one, but he is the one who definitely has the best political position to defy the Democratic leadership without fear of political repercussions.
While many Democrats are quick to endorse the agenda of the party’s leadership, Manchin thinks twice before endorsing policies. He is the senator of one of the most Republican states in the country, where Trump defeated Biden by almost 40 points.
Even the threat of a progressive primary challenger does not really affect Manchin as it does other senators. A successful progressive challenge against Manchin would actually be a headache to the national Democratic Party, as that candidate will surely lose the general election against a Republican making the path for Democrats to maintain control of the Senate even harder. After all, even after Biden received the most votes of any presidential candidate ever, Democrats were barely able to have a razor-thin control over the Senate.
Progressives can rant about Manchin all they want, they can say that he is truly a closeted Republican or that his obstinate emphasis on bipartisanship and consensus is antiquated, but the reality is that neither Pelosi nor Biden can do anything about it, they’ll just have to live with the fact that until they manage to have a bigger majority in the Senate, Manchin has an effective veto over Biden’s policy agenda.
In fact, if Democrats really want to have a better track record in holding Congress, they shouldn’t be chastising Manchin, they should learn from him as he’s been able to keep his seat even if the state has become more conservative than the annual CPAC conference. If Democrats want to win, they should listen more to Manchin than to AOC.