Joe Manchin-- An Arch-Villain... Or An Excuse?

One is part of the future, the other is part of the problem

Did Biden have a meeting with Joe Manchin yesterday? Did they announce how close to the GOP positions on everything they're going to move the Democratic Party? If they did, I missed it. I know today Biden is meeting with Kyrsten Sinema, for very much the exact same reason-- conservative Democratic obstructionism that lets the Republicans off the hook.

This morning Jennifer Rubin devoted her Washington Post column to a statement I'm sure many of us have contemplated this year-- It's Time For Democrats To Force Joe Manchin To Show His Hand-- even if it's apparent that no one is in a position to force Joe Manchin to do anything... even if they want to, which is... debatable to begin with.

Before we get into Rubin's hopeless demand, a little reminder. Manchin barely won reelection in 2018. He beat establishment Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey 290,510 (49.6%) to 271,113 (46.3%) and is the only Democrat in statewide office in West Virginia. (Democrats welcomed Republican Jim Justice, a conservative, to run for governor as a Democrat and he won-- and then promptly switched back to the Republican Party.) Trump, then still occupying the White House, headlined 3 rallies for Morrisey. Two years later, far more West Virginians were interested in voting:

  • Trump- 545,382 (68.6%)

  • Biden- 235,984 (29.7%)

And for the other Senate seat:

  • Shelley Moore Capito (R)- 547,454 (70.3%)

  • Paul Jean Swearengin (D)- 210,309 (27.0%)

Rubin began her column by noting that today's the day that Senate Democrats will begin marking up the voting-rights legislation, the For The People Act, that came over from the House a couple months ago. She predicted that there isn't a single Republican senator who would consider voting for the bill-- and she's 100% correct-- not one; not Collins, not Murkowski, not Romney, certainly not Sasse... none. Conservatives-- and Republicansin particular-- don't want more voter participation; they want less-- much less. The conservative-leaning amendments the Senate will be adding today aren't for Republicans; they're for Manchin, who is the only Democrat, according to Rubin, who hasn't cosponsored the bill. "He seems firmly opposed to dramatic voting reform, but it is unclear what voting provisions he would support. If, as some voting-rights advocates suspect, he is looking to be an obstacle to preserve his standing in a conservative state, they are wasting their time trying to accommodate his demands. Rather than throwing out proposals with the hope to get Manchin’s buy-in, perhaps it is time to force him to show his hand. What voting reform is he prepared to accept? (It is bizarre, frankly, that Democrats are obsessing about going too far to protect voting rights.)."

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Manchin is operating in good faith and would support a limited but substantial list of voting reforms (e.g., independent redistricting, guaranteed early and no-excuse absentee voting, a mandatory paper trail subject to audit) and H.R. 4, which would reauthorize preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. He would then still need 10 Republican votes, which he seems to think can emerge from open debate and negotiation.
Manchin almost certainly will not find 10 Republicans willing to acknowledge that the problem is not voting fraud but voting restrictions. Given that House Republicans are about to excommunicate one of their leaders for refusing to go along with the “big lie” that the election was stolen, I would guess the task of finding any Republican senator who is willing to dispense with the lie about voting fraud and circumvent state legislatures seeking to suppress voting is virtually impossible. (Are there even 10 Republicans to support a stand-alone H.R. 4?)
That means Manchin will have to make a decision that he seems determined to avoid: If no voting rights bill will ever garner 10 Republican votes, what is he prepared to do about it? The answer may be “nothing.” He currently enjoys cover to avoid tough votes (on voting reform and anything else) if the 60-vote cloture rule remains in place. So long as the filibuster makes passage of controversial bills impossible, he need not go up against home-state conservatives on any issue. He could, of course, support a limited exception to the filibuster (as reconciliation has done) to requires a simple majority to pass legislation that entails constitutional protections, but it is far from clear that would pass muster with him.
Manchin must surely realize that Democratic voters, donors and activists-- as well as his fellow officeholders-- will not accept a senator who refuses to defend voting rights in the midst of an onslaught of Jim Crow-style legislation. Voting rights and protection of multiracial democracy are so fundamental to the ethos of the party (more so than abortion rights, taxes or any other topic) that Manchin risks an irreparable breach with his fellow Democrats should he refuse to block the Republicans’ assault on voting rights. (Many Democrats would support a primary challenge against Manchin, even at the risk of losing the seat, if he impedes voting rights reform.)
Democrats should make clear that party members cannot remain in good standing unless they prioritize voting rights over the filibuster. If the red line for Republicans is embrace of the “big lie,” the red line for Democrats is embrace of the big truth-- namely that democracy is imperiled by Jim Crow-style legislation. Ultimately, Manchin will have to decide whether he stands with advocates of voter suppression or his own party.

On the other hand, if Manchin gathered all the Senate Democrats together in a room-- along with Biden and his top staff-- who would demur if he said, "See this bowl? It's fresh diarrhea from this morning and there's enough for everyone. I had Bangladeshi's food at Aladdin Sweets & Tandoor last night-- a little too much of that lamb vindaloo. Anyway, everyone-- Kyrsten is excused, but everyone else-- has to take a spoonful and swallow it or I'm going to join the GOP, who have offered me to make me chair of any committee I want. So, Chuck... you first." Would anyone hesitate? The Republicans would immediately become the majority party and McConnell would be calling the shots again. Bernie wouldn't be Budget Chair; Lindsey O. Graham would be.

Did you see Dan Balz's piece on what the Democrats (and Republicans) should take from this elections in the U.K., which were catastrophic for Labour (Well... New Labour to be more specific)? Balz noted that, like Trump, Conservative Boris Johnson has "found a connection with disaffected working-class voters. He got behind the Brexit referendum-- cynically his critics would say-- that has resulted in Britain leaving the European Union. Traditional Labour strongholds in northern England strongly supported the referendum, and the Tories won over many of those areas in 2019. That was a key to Johnson’s success in the 2019 elections, as Labour support in those areas crumbled, and it became the most symbolically important result last week in the Hartlepool parliamentary election."

Now, Labour is a mess again. The Party tossed socialist Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 and replaced him with Conservative-lite Sir Keir Starmer. "But to date," wrote Balz without expressing any curiosity, "Starmer has had no more success than Corbyn in rejuvenating the party and now is under fire and trying to maneuver to safer ground. Labour’s problem with working-class voters echoes the problems Democrats have had with those voters in the United States over many years. The divisions between urbanites-- well-educated, more diverse and more socially liberal-- and those who live in smaller communities now shape politics in both countries. In both places, the politics of resentment, the feeling of being left behind and disrespected, has played to the disadvantage of the parties-- Labour and the Democrats-- that for years championed themselves as protectors of the working class. Biden, with roots in working-class Pennsylvania, was able to overcome Trump’s support among that constituency, at least enough to win the presidency. In office, his agenda has been aimed at the promotion of economic policies designed to benefit working- and middle-class families. He has done a better job than either Corbyn or Starmer in harmonizing the differences between the Democrat left and center-left."

Designed? OK... but will they be delivered on or will Manchin and, to be fair, other conservative Democrats like Kyrsten Sinema, Jon Tester, the two from Virginia, the two from Delaware, the two from New Hampshire... deliver for the Republicans instead?

Balz continued that "Republicans, who see working-class support as a key element of a new coalition, have yet to find an economic message for those voters that is distinct from the tax-cutting, anti-spending doctrine of the past. The coming battle over how to pay for infrastructure spending is one indication, as Biden calls for raising taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans and Republicans resist making any changes to their 2017 tax bill that rewarded those two groups in particular." But the Republicans won't have to resist, not with Manchin and his pals running interference for them. Or am I missing something here? But the British results in the working-class constituency election were a reminder that cultural and economic issues resonate in what was once Labour territory and that urban elites have difficulty connecting in those places. Republicans are counting on cultural issues to help pave the way to victories in the 2022 midterm elections, one reason they have seized on immigration and the southern U.S. border. Democrats should take notice. In a polarized environment, American politics plays at the margins, with neither party holding a clear advantage. One British election, particularly one focused primarily on local races, doesn’t provide all the answers as to what the future holds. But it’s clear from the post-election rumbling, this one caught people’s attention on both sides of the Atlantic."

I created a photographic mashup of Manchin and Starmer last week, so I won't do that again, but you can see it by clicking on the link. Instead, how about some sense Jeremy Corbyn...