When will Schumer get tough with Manchin? It's a question I get all the time. And this morning, The Hill's Alexander Bolton asked the same thing. Short answer: never. First of all, Schumer is a putz, a classic bully who doesn't get tough with anyone who could strike back at him. Schumer, wrote Bolton, "has several points of leverage, including the power to replace him as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee."
Well, the problem is that Manchin has a much, much more powerful point of leverage: it would take a couple of hours for him to make Schumer minority leader and make every single democratic chair, a ranking member. Yesterday, when asked, Manchin said Schumer has never pressured him. "No, he never does. He realizes he’s from New York and I’m from West Virginia, two different places." Besides, everyone knows Schumer gets tough with progressives, never with conservatives.
Steve Jarding, a former senior adviser to the DSCC, who has worked closely with Schumer, told Bolton Schumer has no options. "The problem for Schumer is that he doesn’t really hold any cards and Manchin does. Manchin obviously could make the case, playing politics to his own West Virginia base, trying to show he’s independent and all that. The best way for the Democrats to handle Joe Manchin is to have Joe Biden do it behind the scenes. Biden’s got a much bigger bully pulpit. I think the Manchin folks would love to have New York senator, liberal Chuck Schumer go after Manchin. If Schumer tried to get tough, it only emboldens Manchin because his base at home is going to love it. He’s going to say, 'Look, I’m standing up to the liberal, I’m standing up to the New York guy.' If Joe Biden became more Lyndon Johnson, calling Manchin in and saying here’s what we need and here’s what I can do for you and your reelection. Politicians listen to that much more than they do someone threatening them."
After all, when Biden was in the Senate, he was Joe Manchin, a progressive-hating conservative dipshit. Problem, of course, is that Biden doesn't want to abolish the filibuster either.
This morning Judd Legum's Popular Information newsletter made a key point: Manchin is pimpin' for the his pals at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They're writing his lines from him. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, if nothing else, the pre-fascist Republican Party establishment. From Manchin's Charleston Gazette-Mail column: "[P]artisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy-- it will destroy it. As such, congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials... Democrats in Congress have proposed a sweeping election reform bill called the For the People Act. This more than 800-page bill has garnered zero Republican support."
Legum noted that it's a very strange argument. "On an entirely partisan basis, Republicans in the states are taking steps that Manchin himself acknowledges 'needlessly restrict voting.' But Manchin says he will only agree to stop this partisan power grab if Republicans agree to join him. This is the exact same argument the Chamber used in talking points it sent to Senators in April opposing the legislation: 'The Chamber believes the ability of Americans to exercise their right to vote in accessible and secure elections and to be able to trust in a free and fair outcome is fundamental to who we are as a nation. The Chamber is deeply troubled by efforts at the state and federal level to enact election law changes on a partisan basis. Changes enacted on a partisan basis are the most likely to erode access and security and undermine public confidence and the willingness of the American people to trust and accept future election outcomes.'"
The Chamber acknowledges that state laws, like Texas' SB 7, are being advanced by Republicans alone. The Chamber, however, has not opposed SB 7 or any other state legislation. But it insists federal legislation to stop this Republican power grab must be bipartisan.
While the argument crafted by the Chamber and adopted by Manchin is designed to seem centrist and reasonable, it has the same practical effect as opposing all federal legislation to protect voting rights. Why? Because there do not appear to be ten Republicans that will support any federal law to protect voting rights.
Manchin's position underscores the centrality of the Chamber in undermining efforts to protect voting rights. The Chamber's aggressive lobbying campaign to defeat federal voting legislation is being underwritten by America's most prominent corporations-- including many that publicly claim to be champions of voting rights.
Process over substance
One remarkable aspect of Manchin's column announcing his opposition to the For The People Act is that it does not contain one substantive criticism of the For The People Act.
Manchin notes that the For The People Act is "sweeping," 800 pages, and has "garnered zero Republican support." But the For The People Act has a lot of specific provisions. Does Manchin oppose automatic voter registration? Or a 15-day early voting period? Or vote-by-mail? Or non-partisan redistricting?
Manchin doesn't say. His objections focus exclusively on process and ignore substance.
The nature of bipartisanship
Manchin insists that "federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together." But according to polling, Democrats and Republicans have come together in support of the For The People Act.
While no Republicans in the Senate support the legislation, an April poll by Data for Progress found substantial Republican support among voters. The firm asked 1138 likely voters the following question:
"The For the People Act is a voting reform bill that would make it easier to vote, limit the influence of money in politics, and require congressional districts to be drawn by a non-partisan commission so that no one party has an advantage."
52% of Republicans, 70% of Independents, and 85% of Democrats supported the legislation. A separate poll, conducted by End Citizens United in April, found that 79% of West Virginia voters, including 76% of West Virginia Republicans, supported the bill.
So the For The People Act has considerable Republican support. It just lacks support from any of the 50 Republican Senators.
Romanticizing the filibuster
Manchin attributes an importance to the filibuster that is not based in fact. "Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy," Manchin writes.
The founders, of course, did not include the filibuster in the Constitution. For decades, American democracy existed without any filibuster at all. And prior to the 1980s, filibusters were rare.
The break from tradition is not eliminating the filibuster but the exploitation of the filibuster to establish a de facto 60-vote threshold for all non-budget legislation.
Time for some game theory
If Manchin wants voting rights legislation to pass on a bipartisan basis-- with 10 or more Republicans-- he is going about it all wrong. Thus far, there is only one Republican who supports significant federal legislation to protect voting rights. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Imagine if Manchin had left open the possibility of altering the filibuster rules to pass voting rights legislation. Republicans would have a strong incentive to work toward a compromise because the alternative would be legislation passing without their input. Instead, Manchin has ruled out altering the filibuster rules under any circumstances.
So if Republicans do nothing, nothing will happen. And for most Republicans in the Senate, that's exactly what they want.