Politics Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin
Manchin's homegrown bipartisanship comes up against a changing world
When Joe Manchin was in the fight of his political life, vying for reelection in a state where being a Democrat had long been out of fashion, the senator's opening message to voters focused on the place he knew best: Farmington, West Virginia. © Maddie McGarvey for CNN Michael Angelucci, former state delegate, and Donna Costello, former mayor of Farmington.
Senate Democrats have been left confused and befuddled by Sen. Joe Manchin, and say they're trying to figure out what their West Virginia colleague is thinking with his most recent moves in bucking his party.
Especially perplexing to Democratic senators is Manchin's opposition to a sweeping election reform bill intended to protect voting rights. He supported what was largely the same legislation, and served as a co-sponsor to the bill, introduced in the previous Congress by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and former Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
The left hates Joe Manchin. His fellow Senate Dems are staying quiet.
Yet angst is quietly rising inside the Democratic caucus over his approach. “Of course I’m frustrated. Who isn’t frustrated?” one Democratic senator said.After all, the 50-vote Senate majority needs Manchin's vote to do just about anything. So not even its most progressive members seem to want to poke the bear.
"If you can figure out what Joe Manchin is about, let me know because I can't," said a Democratic senator who requested anonymity to comment frankly on his colleague. "I'm mystified."
The main sponsors of the bill say it has only been changed in minor ways, and mostly to address concerns raised by state election officials in both parties and to make it more palatable to Republicans.
As a result, they're surprised at the opposition from Manchin, who represents a state easily won by former President Trump and is known for breaking with his party on some high-profile issues.
"There's always room for more [changes] so we're waiting to see what he wants to see in a bill," said Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who helped craft the legislation.
Some Democrats wonder when Schumer will get tough with Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin's defiant statement that he will not vote for a sweeping election reform bill nor vote to get rid of the filibuster has progressive groups and some Democratic lawmakers wondering when Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will get tough with the West Virginia Democrat.Manchin is a member of Schumer's leadership team and Schumer has several points of leverage, including the power to replace him as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. But Schumer doesn't have a reputation for getting tough with colleagues. Instead, he keeps them close and hardly ever criticizes Democratic senators who cause him headaches.
Klobuchar said the Democratic authors of the bill "listened to the secretaries of state and listened to the West Virginia secretary of state on some of the concerns for West Virginia."
Klobuchar said she will continue to work with Manchin though she's not entirely sure how else he wants to change a bill that he supported in 2019.
In a Sunday op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that set Democratic politics on fire, Manchin said he opposed the bill because it doesn't have any Republican support.
That rationale left many Democrats at a loss for how to respond, and fearful for what it means for other big agenda items.
"You can't solve for that in Mitch McConnell's Senate," complained a Democratic senator. The senator said if Manchin's vote is based purely on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) ability to keep his caucus unified in opposing key Democratic priorities, then it becomes very difficult to negotiate with the West Virginian.
Inside Biden and Manchin's Joemance
Democratic senators say that only the president can convince the influential centrist to sign off on key parts of the party's agenda.Four months after Biden helped secure Manchin’s vote for a party-line, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law, the president is taking a different approach with the West Virginia Democrat who's blocking multiple party priorities. Biden didn't sound pleased last week when, during a speech marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, he appeared to take a public swipe at Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) by citing two Democrats who frequently sided with Republicans.
Merkley, the lead sponsor of the For the People Act, said the changes to the bill since Manchin last supported it have been minimal and were done with the consultation of constitutional experts and state election officials.
"The bill is essentially the same bill, it's essentially the same bill as it was introduced," he said, adding there were "minor tweaks here and there based on input from legal [experts]."
"In committee we put together a manager's amendment that responded to a lot of input from Republican and Democratic secretaries of state and election clerks about making it more feasible in terms of timelines or complexity and then the Republicans blocked us from actually making those changes in committee," he said, referring to the evenly divided 9-9 Rules Committee where a tie vote prevents an amendment from being adopted.
Other Democratic senators couldn't explain Manchin's substantive opposition.
"You're asking me questions you should probably ask Joe Manchin," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a leading proponent of Senate bipartisanship who supports the election reform bill.
The Democratic Senators Hiding Behind Joe Manchin
It was March 5, right before the Senate’s doomed vote to raise the minimum wage to $15, and, as usual, Sen. Joe Manchin was the center of attention. But there was no need for reporters to swarm the West Virginia moderate. On that day, he was far from the only Democrat who’d give the thumbs-down to a progressive priority. Seven other Democratic senators would vote the same way—and draw far less recognition or criticism. That tally surprisedBut there was no need for reporters to swarm the West Virginia moderate. On that day, he was far from the only Democrat who’d give the thumbs-down to a progressive priority. Seven other Democratic senators would vote the same way—and draw far less recognition or criticism.
Manchin's voting rights litmus test has heightened concerns about where he will be when Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) attempts to pass much of Biden's infrastructure agenda under the budget reconciliation process, which will allow it to bypass a GOP filibuster if all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats stick together.
Manchin supports the bipartisan negotiations on infrastructure, which - if they produce a deal - would result in an investment package only a fraction the size of what Biden has proposed. It's also far from clear there will be any deal on the issue with the GOP after Biden ended talks with one key Republican senator on Tuesday in favor of a bipartisan group.
Senate Democrats held a caucus meeting Tuesday afternoon where they discussed their strategy for infrastructure legislation as well as how to revive the For the People Act, which appears to be dead without Manchin's support.
But Manchin didn't attend the meeting. Instead, he was spotted leaving the Capitol building about 1:30 p.m., when the meeting was taking place in the Hart Senate Office Building. His spokesperson said the senator "had a conflicting meeting."
Democratic senators say they want to speak directly to Manchin to figure out exactly where he's coming from, even though his op-ed published Sunday offered a detailed explanation of his position on the election reform bill.
Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin
Ultimately, we need both parties devoid of extremes. While there are some sensible Republicans like former GOP Chairman Michael Steele and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) attempting to save the Grand Old Party, in my view, the Republican Party is too far gone. Perhaps a third party is what American politics truly needs. However, in the meantime, the Democrats need to figure out a better way to work with the senior Senator from West Virginia, or we continue to lose as a country.
In the same essay he pledged he would not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster, which spells the doom of many Democratic legislative priorities given McConnell's track record of unifying his conference against Democratic bills.
"I want to talk to him personally on it and make sure I understand completely," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who said Manchin supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which has yet to be introduced in this Congress but offers another avenue for negotiation.
Asked how Manchin's stance on filibuster reform would change Democratic strategy, Durbin said, "I don't know."
"That's one of the reasons I want to talk to him face-to-face, so I understand what he's willing to say or do," he said. "There are a dozen different ways to deal with the filibuster. And I don't know if he's dismissed all of them or would entertain some of them.
"I will only know that if I sit down with him," he added.
In March, Manchin signaled his willingness to support a change in Senate rules that would make it tougher for the minority party to block legislation by requiring them to actively hold the floor to continue a filibuster.
"If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk, I'm willing to look at any way we can," Manchin said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
But Manchin later walked back that statement by saying he didn't want to change the 60-vote procedural hurdle to advancing to a final up-or-down vote, a hurdle Republicans will use to bottle up much of Biden's agenda.
Senate Democrats at their Tuesday caucus meeting raised concerns that a new effort by a group of Democratic and Republican moderates, including Manchin, to negotiate a scaled-down infrastructure package could doom the chances of passing a reconciliation package later in the year.
They reason that if the most bipartisan elements of Biden's infrastructure agenda are passed separately, then a reconciliation package may not get Manchin's vote later this year and fall short of the 50 votes it needs to pass.
McConnell Has Just One Play Against Joe Manchin’s Voting Rights Compromise .
The question is if the trick will keep working.It’s not that complicated, even if it has been amazingly successful. But it’s also something that hasn’t really been tested, and that is the part that could be about to change. On Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) announced that he could be convinced to vote on Congressional Democrats’ top priorities on voting rights, something he’s previously resisted, and he even offered a list of specific elements he wants to see as part of a compromise on the sprawling “For the People Act,” or S1.