Biden did not mention any names, but he’s clearly talking about Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), the two most moderate members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
Both have been especially skeptical about doing away with the filibuster rules in the Senate, which for most legislation requires a procedural vote that must garner a supermajority of 60 votes. Liberals have pressed for elimination or modification of the filibuster, as it’s a graveyard for a lot of legislation. But Biden notably has not yet embraced full repeal of the filibuster, either, as he knows from his decades in the Senate that it can be a helpful tool if your party is in the minority. The White House says Biden simply wants to make voting easier.
In any case, we’re here to fact-check Biden’s statement that the two Democrats vote more with Republicans.
There are a variety of measurements one can look at, each with their advantages and disadvantages. But they all show that Manchin and Sinema tend to vote more with Democrats, even if they may sometimes stray from the party line.
- VoteView distributes the voting record of senators across a liberal-conservative spectrum, almost like stars at night. The image shows Manchin and Sinema as two lonely specks near the center. But they are considerably to the left of the least-conservative Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine). There would be some overlap if Manchin or Sinema voted more with Republicans.
- FiveThirtyEight shows that Manchin and Sinema have voted with Biden on key votes 100 percent of the time so far this year. But the year is young — and with the Senate in Democratic hands, few items are going to be brought if they face certain defeat. (For instance, when Manchin indicated that he would not support Neera Tanden to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, her nomination was withdrawn. So no vote took place.) The CQ Roll Call bipartisan scorecard for 2020 shows that Manchin and Sinema voted against their party’s majority 38.5 percent and 33.1 percent of the time, respectively. (By contrast, Collins voted against her party’s majority 21.6 percent of the time.) During the Trump administration, FiveThirtyEight says Manchin and Sinema voted with the former president 50.4 percent of the time.
- Heritage Action, a conservative group, gave Manchin a rating in 2020 of 37 percent on the votes it scored; he has a 19 percent lifetime score. Sinema earned a zero percent rating in 2020 and has a 9 percent lifetime score. (The average Senate Democrat earned 3 percent in 2020, so she was even to the left of the average Democrat.) So far this year, both Manchin and Sinema have earned zero percent ratings from Heritage.
- GovTrack has the most expansive scorecard, an “ideology score” that takes into account whether lawmakers sponsor and co-sponsor overlapping sets of bills and resolutions with other members of Congress. Within the 100-person Senate, Sinema ends up as number 47 on a right-to-left scale (a rating of 0.69, with 1.00 being the most right) while Manchin is listed as number 53 (a rating of 0.59). But frankly, this measure does not count votes and may not be helpful in this context. Who’s between Sinema and Manchin? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — no one’s idea of a squishy moderate.
When White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Biden’s comment, she told reporters the president — who spoke in the third person — was reflecting what he hears on cable television. “He was not giving a specific commentary on a policy,” she said. “He was conveying, again, that sometimes that’s the summary — shorthand version that he sees on cable news at times. Again, it’s not always the forum that’s easy to provide guidance on how a bill becomes a law.”
The Pinocchio Test
There’s no evidence that either Manchin or Sinema vote more with Republicans. They are certainly more moderate than other Democrats and in a 50-50 Senate, they have the power to block any part of Biden’s agenda they find objectionable. So, as in the case of Tanden, a vote does not even have to take place, making it difficult to rely on a scorecard. Both senators certainly have been firm in rejecting changes in the filibuster rules, which if eliminated would make it much easier for Biden to pass his program. So we can’t completely say his claim is off base. But it’s close.
Biden earns Three Pinocchios.
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