Joe Manchin sure is the wrong person to be reliant upon in a crisis.
The lone remaining Democratic member of Congress from West Virginia declared in a guest essay yesterday that he is firmly and resolutely opposed to H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and will neither vote for it nor help end the filibuster to allow the United States Senate to be run democratically prior to the midterms.
“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act,” Manchin wrote in a guest essay for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
“Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster. For as long as I have the privilege of being your U.S. senator, I will fight to represent the people of West Virginia, to seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult and to develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.”
“American democracy is something special, it is bigger than one party, or the tweet-filled partisan attack politics of the moment. It is my sincere hope that all of us, especially those who are privileged to serve, remember our responsibility to do more to unite this country before it is too late,” Manchin concluded.
Manchin’s ungrounded, unrealistic commentary quickly prompted a lot of angry responses from Democratic and progressive activists and commentators.
Many of them were served up, fittingly enough, on Twitter.
“I’ve bristled at the notion that if you don’t support blowing up the filibuster, you’re not a Democrat. Or you don’t support all government spending, you’re not a D,” tweeted Joe Lockhart. “But Joe Manchin, when you don’t support the right to vote for every American, you are not a Democrat. Not even close.”
“If voting rights legislation had to be ‘bipartisan’, [the] 15th Amendment would’ve never passed. It’s astonishing that Joe Manchin calls right to vote ‘fundamental’ but won’t back For the People Act that would stop greatest roll back of voting access since end of Reconstruction,” tweeted Ari Berman.
“Joe Manchin is so twisted,” declared the Reverend Dr. William Barber II, one of the greatest preachers in the country. “We need both the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. He knows the VRA is going to be challenged and is a target for the Republicans. And if he wanted to pass the VRA, why for eight years has he not done anything to pass it?”
“Mitch McConnell and Joe Manchin are working in a bipartisan way to dismantle our nation’s pursuit of democracy,” added Charles Booker.
Even Fox’s Chris Wallace was critical of Manchin, asking if he was naive.
You might be surprised to learn that Manchin signaled openness ten years ago to filibuster reform, but that was before he got on this big bipartisanship tear.
Ah, bipartisanship. I’m not sure there is anyone in United States politics who is more in love with that adjective right now than Joe Manchin.
It takes two to tango, though, and congressional Republicans who are “privileged to serve” have no interest in uniting the country or collaborating with Democrats to make voting reforms “bipartisan”. I can count on my fingers the number of Republicans who will sometimes buck their party, but only for something minor.
Susan Collins might vote for a Biden nominee she likes once in a while. Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski will occasionally back a piece of legislation, like the bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attacks. Even more Republicans can be found when the objective is committing money to counter China’s influence, which the Endless Frontier Act seeks to do.
But on anything major, the Republicans will be nays. All of them.
That’s especially true with respect to voting rights. Republicans aren’t going to support any legislation that would impede them from getting back into power.
That includes the the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which Manchin brought up as something he does support in his guest essay for the Gazette Mail.
“My Republican colleague, Lisa Murkowski, has joined me in urging Senate leadership to update and pass this bill through regular order,” Manchin wrote.
“I continue to engage with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about the value of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and I am encouraged by the desire from both sides to transcend partisan politics and strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights.”
Um, what? What desire from both sides is Manchin talking about?
Lisa Murkowski is one Republican. She is unrepresentative of her party and of Mitch McConnell’s caucus. In the absence of the filibuster, one Republican would be enough to pass a bill without the need for a tie-breaker. And one Republican vote does get you the thin veneer of “bipartisanship”.
But since Manchin is opposed to getting rid of the filibuster, it would take ten Republicans to get the bill properly before the Senate for consideration and a vote on final passage. Those additional Republican votes do not exist.
Furthermore, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, while important and a very good idea, barely scratches the surface of what is ultimately needed to protect voting rights and access to the ballot in this country, as the Reverend Dr. Barber said in the tweet I reproduced above. That’s why the House of Representatives put together H.R. 1 and sent it over to the Senate.
And even H.R. 1 isn’t enough. But it’s substantial, and would probably get us closer to a more uniform election system that protects the right to vote.
However, as we know, Republicans don’t have any interest in that.
Wherever they currently have power, Republicans are passing bills intended to stop people from voting in this country. I wrote about these bills last Sunday, providing the complete text of four of them right here on the Cascadia Advocate.
We can see that not only are Republicans not interested in passing bills like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, they are laser focused on going in the other direction. Tellingly, Manchin didn’t acknowledge what Republicans in Texas, Georgia, Iowa, and Florida have been up to recently in his guest essay.
Manchin does, however, recognize that Mitch McConnell is obsessed with getting his power back. When McConnell orchestrated a filibuster of the bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attacks, Manchin lamented:
“There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against this commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for. Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”
Curiously, despite that experience, here is Joe Manchin only a few days later vainly preaching bipartisanship again. If he really believes that the truth will set people free (and by the way, it won’t and doesn’t… that’s an Enlightenment myth), then why doesn’t he acknowledge the truth? Twentieth century style bipartisanship is dead, no matter how fervently Manchin wishes it weren’t.
Republicans are not interested in helping to cooperatively govern the country, and they have proven this over and over again for more than decade.
To put it another way: The process seems more important to him than the outcome. Legislation on something like voting rights is only worth doing in his book if it’s bipartisan. Bring back those wunnerful olde tyme politics!
To that, Republicans say: Great! That means we win, and nothing will get done.
About a month ago, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley told constituents that he was confident Manchin would hold out as a voice and a vote against H.R. 1.
“We think we’ve got him nailed down,” Grassley was quoted as saying.
Yesterday, Manchin proved those words to be true.
Manchin clearly doesn’t like what is happening to the country, but bewilderingly, it appears he only wants to take corrective action if the very people who are busy enabling the destruction of America’s political norms are on board.
That’s a silly, maddening position to hold. But, if you’re trying to make sense of it, it helps to know where Manchin comes from, and who he is.
Manchin represents West Virginia, a small state that has become zealously, feverishly Republican. He has survived several electoral purges of Democrats from high office, riding on the strength of his personal reputation and name familiarity. He’s a rather unique political figure, both within and beyond his state.
In 2018, his last campaign, Manchin won reelection with less than fifty percent of the vote. He got 290,510 votes, while Republican Patrick Morrisey got 271,113 votes and Libertarian Rusty Hollen got 24,411 votes. If Hollen’s voters had backed Morrisey, Manchin would have been defeated… in a Democratic year.
Because he won reelection to a new six year term three years ago, Manchin did not face voters in 2020, when Trump’s name was on the ballot, and was not at risk of being voted out of office at that time by Trump’s base.
But in 2024, Manchin’s luck could easily run out. He will be up. If he runs again, he could conceivably end up on the ballot with Trump, since Trump has not been barred from running again for the office of President of the United States.
Even if the Republicans nominate someone else, Manchin is going to find it hard to pull another rabbit out of a hat. While I don’t and can’t know the future, I figure Joe Manchin’s odds of getting reelected in 2024 are pretty steep.
Donald Trump got 68.62% of the vote across West Virginia last year. Not a single county in the state backed the Biden-Harris ticket. Not even one.
The Wikipedia article on the 2020 presidential election in West Virginia says of the state’s southern region: “This coal-mining, union-heavy region was once among the most heavily Democratic places in the nation; Logan County, for example, broke 72% of its ballots for Bill Clinton in 1996, 61% for Al Gore in 2000, and even 52% for John Kerry in 2004; but by 2008, John McCain flipped it to the Republican column with 54% of the vote, which increased to 68% for Mitt Romney in 2012 and by 2016 and 2020, it had voted 80.9% for Trump.”
All this has happened during Joe Manchin’s political career.
In 1982, he was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates. In 1986, he moved over to the West Virginia State Senate. In 2000, he won his first statewide race and became Secretary of State. In 2004, he was elected Governor, and held that office until 2010, when he resigned to run for the United States Senate.
West Virginia’s transformation into a devout right wing bastion has accelerated, rapidly, since Manchin left the statehouse for the U.S. Capitol.
When Manchin left Charleston for Capitol Hill, he did so with state government largely in Democratic hands. Manchin’s successor, Earl Ray Tomblin, was a Democrat. The Secretary of State was a Democrat (Natalie Tennant), the longtime Attorney General was a Democrat (Darrell McGraw), the Commissioner of Agriculture was a Democrat (Gus R. Douglass), the Treasurer was a Democrat (John Perdue), and the Auditor was a Democrat (Glen Gainer).
Today, all those positions — all of them — are held by Republicans.
The same shift has taken place in the state’s congressional delegation.
In 2014, when Manchin’s seatmate Jay Rockefeller decided to retire, Democrats failed to hold his U.S. Senate seat. It went instead to Republican Shelley Moore Capito. 2014 was also the year that West Virginians dumped longtime Democratic U.S. Representative Nick Rahall, sending hin into retirement after several decades of service in the House. (Rahall was first elected in 1976.)
With Rahall’s loss, the entire three member U.S. House delegation from West Virginia became Republican. It has remained so since.
Manchin is — really and truly — the last prominent Democrat left standing in a state that used to be Democratic to its core. And he knows it.
Manchin also knows that Democrats need his vote to pass anything in the United States Senate. As a member of a fifty person caucus, his word alone is enough to sink a bill, at least in the eyes of Beltway political writers who churn out who’s winning, who’s losing right now analysis on a daily or weekly basis.
Manchin is milking this dynamic for all that it’s worth on a regular basis, keeping himself the center of attention. In the showhorse vs. workhorse metaphor, Manchin is far and away the showhorse by a country mile.
The guest essay he wrote for the Charleston Gazette-Mail didn’t just generate press for him; it generated national above the fold headlines.
That was by design.
Democrats shouldn’t be hostage to Manchin’s whims. They shouldn’t need Manchin’s vote to pass anything in the Senate. He ought to simply be the most conservative member of the caucus, rather than the linchpin of the majority.
But unlike in 2013, when Harry Reid embraced filibuster reform for nominees and marshaled the votes to get it done, Democrats don’t have a fifty-five member caucus. Instead, they have the barest of majorities, with Vice President Kamala Harris available to break ties as needed. Chuck Schumer can’t spare Manchin’s vote. Democrats need him on board to do anything for the time being.
The party failed to beat vulnerable Republican incumbents like Susan Collins and Thom Thillis last year despite making a huge effort to knock Mitch McConnell out of power. The current majority was only belatedly secured thanks to the incredible victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia on January 5th.
Were it not for those Georgia victories, Mitch McConnell would still be in control of the Senate and Joe Manchin’s dreams of bipartisanship would not be a hot topic right now. The road back to the majority has certainly been a roller coaster for Democrats. There has been both the agony of defeat and the ecstasy of victory.
In a way, Manchin’s guest essay yesterday is helpful. It sends a clear message: I want to remind you that I’m unreliable, and I simply cannot be counted upon to do what’s best for the country, even in a very dark hour when I could be of tremendous help to millions of Americans by offering courageous leadership.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ought to force Manchin to take a vote against the For The People Act by bringing it up soon for the Senate’s consideration. If Democrats can’t get the bill through the Senate, they can at least make an issue out of it. As for progressive organizations seeking to hold Manchin accountable, the best course of action is to creatively ensure that he and his staff have to hear from Americans upset with his bad choices on a regular basis.
Spending money on ad campaigns in West Virginia or campaigning against Manchin is not a good use of resources. As Manchin himself observed a few weeks ago: “What are they going to do — they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”