Joe Manchin offers little comfort to frustrated Democrats
Manchin is the most prominent moderate Democrat who could block future efforts to speed up infrastructure spending, voting rights reform, climate change legislation – and anything else – through a Senate to 50-50 without Republican votes. His steadfast positions not only infuriate the more progressive members of his party, drawn from much more liberal parts of the nation than West Virginia’s deep red, but they also spark endless fascination with his motives – and questions about exactly what he’s trying to achieve.
Perhaps most confusing for Democrats is that Manchin is devoted to the idea of a tradition of civility and cooperation in the Senate. In this, he is not all that different from Biden himself, who has made healing divisions and crossing bipartisan lines a centerpiece of his presidency. Manchin believes the old-fashioned way that the country’s poisoned divisions could actually be healed if senators sat down in a spirit of give-and-take and reject a deal both sides could agree to. “We cannot continue to separate and move further apart. We just cannot do this, we have to work together,” Manchin told Raju.
Of course, Manchin is a shrewd power player. He is a former lawmaker and governor of his state, one of the nation’s poorest, already hammered by the world’s diversion from fossil fuels. So its goal is to get additional federal funds for green energy projects to replace jobs in coal mines. for example, it would be foolish to reveal its price until the most convenient time. It would be difficult to find a senator who was more proud or combative for his home. Yet Manchin, facing a storm of criticism from Liberal Democrats, gives no clear sign that he is looking for special spending to buy his vote.
Still, he could have given a fairly broad clue. Manchin appeared at a press conference Thursday ahead of her meeting with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who has been invited to a forum on the issue for which she has Cabinet responsibility. “We are here to show Secretary Granholm what we have to offer, what we have been able to do over the past 100 years… and what we are ready to do,” said Manchin.
And if he’s engaged in a complex electoral balancing act, then he’s the one that produced a 50-50 Senate for Democrats in which Vice President Kamala Harris has a deciding vote. If Manchin had lost three years ago, Biden would have Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, as Senate Majority Leader, in his grill every morning.
On Thursday, it emerged that the president had made another major concession – apparently dropping his call for an increase in corporate tax rates from 21% to 28% to pay for the plan – a proposal that was reportedly dead to the arrival with the GOP. The president now suggests the package could be funded by imposing a minimum corporate income tax of 15% and closing loopholes used by corporate giants to avoid paying taxes.
His measures are sure to fuel concerns among Liberal Democrats that the president is going too far to honor his own rare predilection in his party to seek bipartisan ground with Republicans. For Manchin to say talks must continue if the GOP tries to make an even tougher deal will only exacerbate Progressive Democrats’ fears that the GOP will take them on a boat.
Given the political implications of the measures, there is no chance that 10 Senate Republicans will join the Democrats by a qualified majority of 60 votes to pass it. As a result, Manchin is under pressure from Democrats to agree to abolish or change the 60-vote filibuster rule – assuming that he, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and some other Democrats with reservations about the bill can be cajoled on board.
But he shows no sign of moving on it either.
“We’re going to make the place work, and you can’t make it work unless the minority has a say,” Manchin said, defending the filibuster. “You cannot ignore a person who is not in the majority; the Senate was never designed that way.”
His position is once again the one that fuels claims that he is naive, seeks bipartisanship for his own participation, and allows himself to be used by die-hard Republicans dedicated to blocking Biden’s presidency.
The fury of obstruction
Many Democrats argue that the GOP abuses filibuster and helps protect one of the most egregious attempts ever to crush American democratic freedoms across the country.
“Constitutional drafters did not anticipate that so many votes on important issues would require a minority to be in charge,” Democratic Representative Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania told CNN “Newsroom” last Sunday.
“They thought a simple majority vote should be in charge.”
Four years later, the Republicans have gone even further, allowing them to put what is likely a generational conservative majority on the top bench. Still, many Democrats reject this argument, believing that McConnell’s relentless driving style and willingness to write his own rules for Senate procedure make it likely that he himself would abolish filibuster if the GOP were to win back. house control, to pass a conservative wish list on issues like gun control and abortion.
Manchin left a tantalizing stranger unanswered during his interview. While strongly affirming his positions on systematic obstruction and bipartite negotiations on infrastructure, he has not proclaimed an absolute refusal to change his mind. His ambiguity at least left open the possibility that he could view Republicans’ bad faith in infrastructure talks or blatant electoral manipulation as an incentive to change positions.
But that’s a puzzle for another day.