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Before that little incident at the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, started out as a pretty good day. The Georgia Senate elections had just been finalized, and we could look forward to a Democratic majority passing President Joe Biden’s progressive agenda.
Now his agenda is a train wreck because two Democratic senators haven’t gotten the memo that bipartisanship is dead. Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema still hold some bizarre notion that Republicans deserve to be treated as if they are operating in good faith. The pair have steadfastly opposed suspending the filibuster, which would give Democrats the ability to pass voting rights legislation. The filibuster, they argue, is good for democracy, even when Republicans have shown time and time again they care nothing about democracy.
They demonstrated that most recently, of course, this week by blocking a voting rights bill for the fifth time in six months. Manchin got a taste of GOP compromise last summer when he pushed a compromise voting bill, which Mitch McConnell shoved back in his face. Happened again in October. Yet Manchin and Sinema cling to the fantasy of bipartisanship.
Meanwhile, in 19 states the GOP will head into coming elections armed with new laws that restrict voting rights intended to suppress the votes of African Americans, Latinos and others who tend to not vote for them. Other laws will make the vote-counting process more partisan, opening the door to overturned election results. This will go on until they are stopped by federal law, which won’t happen because Manchin and Sinema value the filibuster more than they value democracy.
Or maybe they just want to please enough conservative voters to stay in office when they go up for reelection in 2024. But the truth is, Arizona and West Virginia are likely to send them packing. Sinema’s prospects appear to be headed down the toilet. According to a November Arizona Public Opinion Pulse, in a hypothetical primary Sinema trails U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego 24% to 47%.
Manchin, the only West Virginia Democrat to hold statewide office, is the former governor of the 94% white state that has turned from blue to red with alarming alacrity. Trump won the state by a 39-point margin. But Manchin’s luck is running out. In 2012, he easily won his Senate seat. In 2018, he squeaked by with under 50% of the vote.
As the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib wrote last summer, “His insistence on bipartisanship, which strikes some as both naive and anachronistic, isn’t merely part of his political makeup; it’s what is required for a Democrat holding on in West Virginia.”
He may keep some conservative cred by calling himself pro-life, pro-business and pro-gun. But he has also endorsed funding for Planned Parenthood, helped tank a Trump nominee to the federal bench and voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trial.
If you’re a Republican, who needs him?
He’s also lost key support from some Democrats. Hoping to shore up votes from the state’s shrinking ranks of coal miners, he tanked Biden’s Build Back Better plan, specifically citing his opposition to clean energy provisions. But the coal miners union, under no delusion that coal is going to make a comeback, has urged him to rethink his position because the bill contains provisions that would bolster unions and help workers find clean energy jobs.
By 2024 even more of them will be unemployed and angry, and nobody exploits anger like the GOP. Manchin has a few choices. He could bow to the political winds and flip to the GOP. But then he’d face stiff primary challenges from the Trumpist wing of the party. He can continue with his talk of compromise with a party that doesn’t compromise.
Or he could do what’s in the best interest of the country, vote to end the filibuster and hopefully roll back the GOP’s attack on democracy. If he continues on his current path, he’ll go down in history as an obstructionist and a dupe. A better legacy would be to go down in flames for the sake of democracy.