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Will Manchin Derail Biden (And The Democrats) And Hand The Midterms To The GOP?



Earlier, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent wrote that "By many measures, the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency have surpassed expectations... Biden’s first big covid-19 rescue package passed into law faster than expected. That and his jobs and infrastructure plan are both proving more ambitious-- and broadly popular-- than most observers predicted. The latter is expected to pass as well, by a simple majority reconciliation vote in the Senate if necessary."


"Expected?" Maybe-- and in what compromised, less effective form? The obstacle to passage via reconciliation isn't McConnell, the GOP or their filibuster; it's Joe Manchin (and Kyrsten Sinema), putative Democrats. The Hill's Alexander Bolton reported today that "Manchin is ramping up discussions with Republicans about what a scaled-down infrastructure package should look like, and some GOP senators are even optimistic that the moderate [Beltwayese for "conservative"] Democrat can be persuaded to block efforts to raise the corporate tax rate."


That ties Schumer's hands because he can't begin the reconciliation process until he has 50 votes-- presumably Manchin (unless Murkowski has cut a deal with Democrats for them to not support someone against her in a tough reelection battle; not likely). Bolton, ignoring the danger from Sinema-- either because he knows something or knows nothing-- wrote that Schumer will have to wait for Manchin's negotiations "to reach some kind of conclusion before moving ahead with the budget reconciliation process... Manchin wants time for the talks to build momentum," which is playing right into the Republican stalling strategy. Manchin, who sounds a lot stupider than I ever thought he was, said "For the sake of our country, we have to show we can work in a bipartisan way. I don’t know what the rush is."


A bill that is effective and works for the people in this country is what's important, not that it be bipartisan, especially not when progress is being held up by knee-jerk obstructionists who helped provoke an attempted coup (like, at the minimum, Tuberville, Cruz and Hawley) and who are wedded to seeing Biden fail. I don't understand why that's so hard for Manchin to understand.


"Democrats," wrote Bolton, "are getting nervous about an extended timeline and worry that splitting Biden’s infrastructure agenda into two or three pieces of legislation might mean that a substantial part of it gets left behind." Manchin was parroting the Republican party line when he said over the weekend that he "wants to focus on 'conventional infrastructure' such as roads, bridges, water projects and expanded broadband internet, and he proposed splitting off about $400 billion in funding for home- and community-based caregivers for the elderly and people with disabilities, as well as billions of dollars for child care. While Manchin said such priorities are “needed,” he added that doesn’t want to lump too many of them in a broad bill because he thinks it would be tougher to sell to the public." That's a bullshit cover for Manchin's own conservatism since the public is already sold and polling on the part of the bill conservatives like least is sky-high. Manchin has been praising a Republican plan that basically cuts the amount Biden wants to spend in half. He seems to have assured Lindsey Graham that he will stop the infrastructure bill from going forward.


So... when Sargent talks about how the bill is "expected to pass as well, by a simple majority reconciliation vote," I hope he's correct but worry that the bill will be unrecognizable by the time Manchin agrees to it. Sargent acknowledges that "unknowns loom." But those unknown are not part of the infrastructure and jobs bill.


"What happens," he asked, "when agenda items that can be filibustered come to the fore? How seriously do Democrats take the need to pass sweeping democracy reforms, given that Republicans are entrenching anti-majoritarian tactics everywhere, which could help them win the House, crippling Biden’s agenda? Won’t that force the issue of filibuster reform?"


On MSNBC, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) floated a timetable to pass those democracy reforms, known as S. 1 and H.R. 1, potentially by August. Interviewer Mehdi Hasan noted that action on immigration, police reform and voting rights are all subject to the filibuster, and that the death of one Democratic senator could end their majority. Then this happened:
Schumer didn’t commit to reforming the filibuster. But everyone knows passing S. 1 or even large swaths of it-- especially ones blunting GOP voter suppression and extreme gerrymanders-- won’t pass without changing the filibuster or eliminating it.
Now White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has spoken positively of Schumer’s declaration about a possible August deadline.
On a call with columnists, Klain was asked by yours truly how much urgency Biden sees in the need to pass democracy reforms and whether at some point it might be necessary to press Democratic holdouts against filibuster reform (like Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia) to take it more seriously.
“Democracy reform is very important-- it’s important to President Biden-- it’s important for our democracy, not just for the Democratic Party,” Klain said. “I heard Senator Schumer say last night on TV that his goal is to get H.R. 1 through the Senate this summer.”
“That’s a very strong goal, and one we would join him in pursuing,” Klain continued. He added that the White House also hopes to see passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore voting rights protections gutted by the Supreme Court.
“This is a high priority for us,” Klain said. “We’re going to work hard to try to get it passed.”
This is consistent with previous White House statements in support of democracy reform, and it’s good to hear this declaration of willingness to support Schumer’s newly articulated timetable.
To be clear, Klain didn’t say anything about filibuster reform. Biden recently told ABC News that he supports restoring the “talking filibuster,” which would require a senator to actively keep the filibuster going. But it’s unclear whether he’s willing to push Democrats further.
Klain also emphasized, as the White House repeatedly has, that Biden still remains fully committed to trying to win bipartisan support for much of his agenda. Klain signaled optimism about the possibility of deals on infrastructure repair and police reform.
Biden and Democrats have struck a difficult balance: They’ve signaled real openness to Republican input on major Biden priorities, without getting dragged into efforts to dramatically whittle down their ambitions and chase bipartisan support that won’t ever materialize.
Yet on voting rights and the filibuster, tough decisions will simply have to happen soon. There is no chance that democracy reform can get the support of 10 Republican senators to break a filibuster.
Meanwhile, Republicans are rushing forward with voter suppression efforts everywhere, while openly threatening retribution against private corporations that dare to point it out. And Republicans are declaring that extreme gerrymanders could help them win back the House. Some experts think that could happen even if Democrats win the national House popular vote.
What’s more, Republicans are increasingly trying to memory-hole the Jan. 6 insurrection, refusing to go along with a serious accounting into it and coming up with almost comically dishonest ways to downplay Donald Trump’s role in inciting it, further underscoring their ongoing radicalization against democracy.
So at some point, Democrats will simply have to have a serious conversation about what this radicalization calls forth from them, not just for their own good but also for the good of our democracy and the country.

Democrats, and I'm not even talking about Manchin and Sinema, who think they're going to get GOP cooperation-- instead of rank obstruction-- on any of this are dreaming. The Republican Party has already crafted a war platform based on blaming the Democratic Party for these problems and that's their only priority, not fixing them. They are not a party interested in governing, just interested in preventing the Democrats from doing so and in maintaining the status quo at every level. Manchin is part of them, not part of anything remotely progressive.