Manchin is the most prominent moderate Democrat who could block future efforts to ram infrastructure spending, voting reform, climate change laws – and everything else – through a 50-50 Senate with no Republican votes. His staunch positions not only enrag more progressive members of his party, hailing from far more liberal parts of the nation than the deep red West Virginia, but they also spark an endless fascination with his motives – and questions about what exactly he is trying to achieve.
Perhaps most amazingly for the Democrats, Manchin subscribed to the idea of a tradition of courtesy and cooperation in the Senate. This is not that different from Biden himself, who has made healing divisions and crossing bipartisan lines central to his presidency. There is an old-fashioned belief that if the senators sit down in a give-and-take spirit and negotiate a deal that both sides can accept, the poisoned divisions in the country can actually be cured. “We can’t separate any further and diverge further. We just can’t do that, we have to work together,” Manchin told Raju.
Manchin is of course an accomplished power player. He is a former lawmaker and governor of his state – one of the poorest in the country already being shaken by the world’s turn away from fossil fuels. If his goal is to raise additional federal funding – for green energy projects to replace jobs in coal mining. for example – he would be a fool to reveal his price at the most convenient time. It would be difficult to find a senator who is more proud or more combative of his homeland. Yet Manchin, facing a storm of criticism from liberal Democrats, is giving no overt sign that he is looking for special editions to buy his vote.
Still, it could have provided a pretty broad clue. Manchin appeared at a press conference Thursday before his interview – with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who was invited to a forum on the subject for which she is responsible in the cabinet. “We are here to show Minister Granholm what we have to offer, what we have been able to do over the past 100 years … and what we are ready to do,” said Manchin.
And if he’s doing a complicated balancing act in the elections, it’s one that produced a 50:50 Senate for Democrats in which Vice President Kamala Harris has a casting vote. If Manchin had lost three years ago, Biden would have Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, as the Senate majority leader in his grill every morning.
On Thursday, it emerged that the president had made another significant concession – apparently his request for a rise in corporate tax rates from 21% to 28% to pay for the plan – a proposal that came upon arrival at the GOP. would have been dead. The president is now proposing that the package could be funded by imposing a minimum tax on corporate profits of 15% and closing loopholes used by corporate giants to avoid taxes.
His moves are sure to fuel concern among Liberal Democrats that the president is going too far to appreciate his own rare fondness within his party for finding bipartisan soil among Republicans. The fact that Manchin says talks must continue if the GOP tries to get an even tougher deal will only add to fears among progressive Democrats that the GOP is poking at them.
Given the political implications of the measures, there’s no chance ten Senate Republicans will join the Democrats with a 60-vote super majority to get them passed. As a result, Manchin is under pressure from Democrats to abolish or amend the 60-vote filibuster rule – provided he, Arizona’s Senator Kyrsten Sinema, and a few other Democrats with reservations about the law can be brought on board.
But he also shows no sign of moving about it.
“We’re going to make the place work and you can’t get it working unless the minority has contributed,” Manchin said, defending the filibuster. “You can’t ignore a person who isn’t in the majority; the Senate was never designed that way.”
His position is once again one that fuels claims that he is naive, seeking bipartisanism for his own part, and allowing himself to be exploited by hardline Republicans committed to blocking Biden’s presidency.
Many Democrats argue that the GOP is abusing the filibuster and helping to protect one of the most overt attempts of all time to destroy American democratic freedoms across the country.
“The constituents did not expect that so many votes on important matters would require a minority,” said the Democratic MP Madeleine Dean from Pennsylvania last Sunday in the “Newsroom” of CNN.
“They thought that a simple majority vote should rule.”
Four years later, the Republicans went one step further and allowed them to install a likely generational conservative majority on the top bank. Still, many Democrats reject this argument, arguing that McConnell’s persistent style and willingness to write his own rules for the Senate process would make it likely that he would do away with the filibuster himself if the GOP regained control of the chamber, to have a conservative wish list on topics like gun control and abortion.
Manchin left a tempting stranger unanswered during his interview. While forcibly setting out his positions on the filibuster and bipartisan infrastructure negotiations, he did not refuse to ever change his mind. His ambiguity at least left open the possibility that he could see the Republicans’ bad faith in infrastructure talks or blatant election manipulation as an incentive to change positions.
But that’s a puzzle for another day.
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