Has Manchin had His Moment of Zen?
Can he rise above the GOP?
May 29th 2021
Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, is probably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. In an evenly split Senate, his decisions on such things as the infrastructure bill and the filibuster can possibly make or break the Biden presidency, and for that matter, the country itself.
Manchin has opposed ending the filibuster rules in the Senate, and while there is all sorts of conjecture as to why he supports this democracy-defeating relic of the ante-bellum days, it’s safe to say that self-interest isn’t one of those reasons. With the filibuster, he’s just another pointless vote in a Senate controlled by 41 of the Senators and 28% of the voting population. Without the filibuster he’s the deciding vote on most legislative items, minor and major, including all judicial nominees. Being the deciding vote is a dream of any congressional; he can parley his vote into advantages for his district and his constituents, and if he’s reasonably straightforward and honest in his dealings, he can use his place in the sun to career-boosting things such as plum committee assignments or support for a future presidential bid. For the next 18 months, getting rid of the filibuster would be very much to Manchin’s advantage.
Until yesterday, he had adamantly opposed changing the rules to eliminate the filibuster. He argument was that if things weren’t done in a bipartisan manner, the interests of the general population weren’t being served. This is a view that required utter blindness to the behavior of Republicans who are openly contemptuous of bipartisanship and regard “reaching across the aisle” as a sign of weakness.
Manchin’s delusion may have come crashing to Earth yesterday. That was when the Senate finally voted on whether to establish a commission to study the events of January 6th. The House has already voted on it, passing what should have been a no-question-about-it resolution with the support of only 35 Republicans.
Manchin regarded a Congressional inquiry into the events of that day as essential and seemed confident that there were at least 10 Republicans with the honor and courage to vote for the bill. After weeks of intense negotiation, mentored by Manchin, it was decided that rather than the usual arrangement of majority party getting 50% +1 in membership and agreeing that tie votes would defeat a passage of a report, the Republicans reneged when the vote came down, with only 6 of them voting for what they had agreed upon.
Republican reasons for their vote varied from not wanting to anger the monster from Mar-a-Lago to covering up complicity with the insurrectionists to avoiding embarrassment to the party to the simple, savage Gingrich-type glee of simply cheating the Democrats by pretending to negotiate in good faith and then shafting them on the vote itself.
The scales fell from Manchin’s eyes. He released a statement that evening, saying in full,
“Before January 6, 2021, an attack on Congress and Democracy at our Capitol at the hands of our own citizens was unimaginable. In the 240 plus years of our great nation’s history, we have never seen an attack of this nature. Not even during our nation’s horrific Civil War did this happen. This was our chance to have a bipartisan commission that would allow for an impartial investigation into the events of that horrific day so we are better able to prevent another attack on our nation. Let me be clear – Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate accepted the proposed changes from Republicans because a commission of this nature must be bipartisan to be successful.
“This commission passed the House with a bipartisan vote. The failed vote in the Senate had six brave Republicans, but that was four short of the ten necessary to advance the legislation. Choosing to put politics and political elections above the health of our Democracy is unconscionable. And the betrayal of the oath we each take is something they will have to live with.
“To the brave Capitol police officers who risk their lives every single day to keep us safe, the Capitol and Congressional staff that work around the clock to keep Congress running, even the reporters who work hard to deliver Congressional news to the American people and every American who watched in horror as our Capitol was attacked on January 6th – you deserve better and I am sorry that my Republican colleagues and friends let political fear prevent them from doing what they know in their hearts to be right.”
He was later quoted as telling reporters,”This job’s not worth it to me to sell my soul.”
That doesn’t sound like a man who has any trust or respect left for the Republicans in the Senate, does it? Whatever else you might say about him, he was honestly appalled by the events of January 6, and wants a reckoning. And he’s clearly tired of McConnell’s vicious little fascist games.
Biden was expecting something like this. He simply put his infrastructure bill in the 2023 budget intact, realizing that Republican “negotiations” were in bad faith, and just coincidentally, creating a space for a different major bill to be presented under Reconciliation, such as SR1, the Voting Act. He knows what the Republicans have in mind for us, and that they must be stopped.
I believe that Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer were waiting for the Republicans to take a last big bad-faith step like this. Public outrage is high over this vote—I wrote on Facebook that if your representative voted against this committee, you were being represented by a coward, a liar, a hypocrite and in all likelihood, a traitor, I didn’t get a single negative response.
If Schumer moves this coming week to abolish the filibuster—which only requires 50 votes, ironically—I believe Manchin will vote for it. After working hard to give the Republicans full representation on the committee in order to ensure a truly bipartisan result (he hoped!) he has to feel outraged and betrayed, and like all of the rest of us, deeply skeptical of Republican patriotism and basic decency.
We are at our make-or-break moment.