In the ongoing competition between Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to get attention by being Democratic contrarians, Sinema seemed to have a leg up, getting a long exclusive with the Wall Street Journal in order to show her “mavericky” self in her stalwart opposition to ending the filibuster to let anything good happen. So Manchin has decided to up the ante with an op-ed in The Washington Post. He’s even more committed to obstructing President Joe Biden‘s agenda than Sinema is, he seems to be asserting here.
“There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” he blusters. “The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation.” Because he’s got the power to make Mitch McConnell go away? It’s hard to know what’s going on here. Is Manchin so absolutely oblivious to what’s been going on around him for the entirety of his time in the Senate, or does he have such a huge ego that he thinks he can declare a new era of bipartisanship and not get laughed off the Senate floor?
One thing that Manchin doesn’t make clear is what he means by “weakening” the filibuster. Is he, for instance, now opposed to reinstating a talking filibuster—the thing he said he’d maybe support a month ago? A talking filibuster could actually do the thing Manchin says he wants—bipartisanship. Maybe people would listen as well as talk.
Incidentally, there doesn’t have to be a vote to bring back the talking filibuster. That’s a scheduling thing Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could change all on his own. That’s what happened in the 1970s, scholar Sarah Binder explains, when we got the “stealth” filibuster. Then-Majority Leader Mike Mansfield decided to introduce separate legislative “tracks” to keep legislation that was being filibustered from clogging up the rest of the works of the Senate—it allows for more than one bill to be pending on the floor as unfinished business. In the decades that followed, filibusters increased by the dozens, because they were painless. Other business went on, and senators could silently and effortlessly kill bills.
Schumer can end tracking and can force actual debate on bills. He can force a talking filibuster. What he can’t do is change the 60-vote majority for ending a filibuster—that would take Manchin (and Sinema’s) agreement. But he can keep the opposition on the floor debating all the time, waiting for them to slip up and not have someone on the floor around the clock to block unanimous consent requests to move on to the legislation. That would be restating the kind of grand Senate tradition Manchin so reveres. Would he go along with that? We don’t know because Manchin doesn’t talk about the substance of Senate procedure. He just issues a lot of platitudes about how it should be.
He also betrays some ignorance about how the Senate works. Like where he writes “Voting rights reforms, instituting health-care protections and changes to the federal tax code and business regulations take time to implement on the state and local levels.” As Max Kennerly points out with the exception of voting rights reforms, these aren’t routinely subject to the filibuster anyway. Health care and particularly the tax code have traditionally been handled by reconciliation which can’t be filibustered. If Congress wants to deal with regulations—which are established by the executive branch—it uses the Congressional Review Act. Which is not subject to the filibuster, either.
What is shining through in all of this op-ed is that Manchin has not done his homework and that he has not seriously considered his position. The other thing that is striking is the degree to which he is setting himself up to take on sole responsibility for gridlock.
No less than six times, Manchin talks about the degree to which there’s bipartisan agreement in the Senate. Most galling, and revealing, is when he insists that Republicans will go along with what he calls “voting reform.” Notice he’s not talking about voting rights, but reforms. He also gives a nod to the Big Lie, again, when he says “Our ultimate goal should be to restore bipartisan faith in our voting process by assuring all Americans that their votes will be counted, secured and protected.” That’s all but agreeing with Republicans that they have a reason not to believe the 2020 election was fair and free.
But every time Manchin puts himself forward as the keeper of bipartisanship and insisting that there must be a 60-vote majority for everything, he’s taking on the responsibility of finding 10 Republican votes on everything. When that doesn’t work, what? Does he relent and finally allow filibuster reform?
There aren’t 10 Republican votes for anything that matters and Manchin is revealing just how unserious he is in pretending otherwise.
A lifelong Blue girl in a Red state, I’m now Senior Political Writer for Daily Kos. On any given day, I’d rather be horseback, but there’s more demand for political writers than cowgirls.