Manchin’s declaration Sunday that he will vote against sweeping legislation to guarantee voting rights nationwide and that he “will not vote to weaken or eliminate” the Senate filibuster is a huge blow to President Biden’s hopes of enacting his ambitious agenda. There’s no way to spin this as anything other than awful.
Manchin’s decision is a catastrophe not just for this particular bill, though he has almost certainly doomed the legislation. A senior administration official told me Monday that “none of this is a surprise to those who have heard Manchin’s views” and that the White House will continue working to “make progress notwithstanding the difficult challenges in front of us, including a 50-vote Senate.” But thanks to Manchin’s decision, Biden doesn’t even have a 50-vote Senate for what many Democrats see as an existential fight against the GOP’s attempt to gain and keep power through voter suppression. The 49 Senate votes left after Manchin’s defection will take Biden and the Democrats precisely nowhere.
Worse, Manchin is asking Democrats to respond to ruthlessness with delusion. In an op-ed in the West Virginia paper the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin said he will oppose the For the People Act, passed by the House in March, because it has no Republican support. “I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy,” he wrote.
Manchin did say he supports another proposed House bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would essentially restore provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act forbidding some states to change election laws without obtaining preclearance from the Justice Department. The original preclearance rules were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
But Manchin wants this, too, to win bipartisan support. Unless Manchin changes his position on the filibuster, 10 Republican senators would have to cross the aisle and join with Democrats. So far, there is one — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The other nine must be in some parallel dimension, visible only to Manchin, where all the leprechauns, tooth fairies and unicorns are hiding.
Inconveniently for Manchin’s fantasies of unity, the fact is that one of our major parties — the one Manchin ostensibly belongs to — believes in guaranteeing access to the polls for all eligible voters, making political donations more transparent, tightening ethics rules for members of Congress and ensuring that congressional districts are drawn fairly. The other party doesn’t want to do any of those things, because Republicans see these reforms as threatening the GOP’s ability to win national elections with the support of a minority of voters.
Trump’s incoherent policies so robbed the GOP of any consistent philosophy that last year’s national convention did not even attempt to produce a party platform. Republicans have replaced ideological litmus tests with pledges of loyalty to the former president. Opposing efforts to expand and guarantee voting rights appears to be the one policy idea they can all agree on.
Look, I understand the reality of Manchin’s situation. He is himself a political unicorn — a Democrat sent to the Senate by one of the most Republican states in the country. But insisting on bipartisanship in all things might not be a magical talisman against defeat.
A new survey of 600 likely 2022 general election voters from West Virginia commissioned by End Citizens United, a Democratic group advocating for passage of the For the People Act, and conducted by the polling firm ALG Research shows that Manchin is viewed favorably by 43 percent of voters and unfavorably by 50 percent. (The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.)
One poll question suggests a contradiction that implies the limits of Manchin’s dedication to defying political gravity, both at home and in Washington. The self-identified non-conservative Democrats who provide Manchin’s strongest base of support, with 59 percent viewing him favorably, are also the most skeptical of the filibuster Manchin has pledged himself to protect. Twenty percent of them say the filibuster should be eliminated, and another 45 percent say it should be reformed. Forty-three percent of West Virginians overall say the filibuster should remain unchanged.
That is just one poll, and Manchin’s history of winning suggests he knows his state. But even Manchin has to hold on to his strongest supporters. Blocking Biden’s agenda and allowing GOP voter suppression are not stances that will help him win his next election or change Washington’s increasingly twisted laws of politics. In this fairy tale, Manchin is setting himself up to be the villain.