By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS—It took a remarkable set of circumstances to make Joe Manchin the second most powerful person in America.
If former President Donald Trump hadn’t gone into a post-election self-pity party from which he has yet to emerge, Republicans likely would have won the two run-off elections in Georgia.
And Manchin, a Democratic U.S. senator from West Virginia, just would be a member of the minority caucus in what once was the world’s greatest deliberative body.
But Trump did give free rein to his petulance. He cast doubt on the integrity of the election process, sowed dissent among Georgia Republicans and discouraged his supporters from casting their ballots for the GOP candidates.
That allowed Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to eke out victories and made Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, majority leader.
It also made Manchin king of the legislative process—a figure even more powerful than Schumer or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, or perhaps even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
Manchin’s is the deciding voice in determining if the filibuster will continue to be a fixture in the Senate—and American life. He is the one who says whether and how the infrastructure bill will move forward. On just about every major issue before the legislative branch, Manchin is the starter’s pistol.
Manchin sits at the midpoint of the teeter-totter. If he slides to the left, Democrats can do just about anything they want. If he moves right, Republicans in the Senate can block every initiative of President Joe Biden.
He has not been shy about using his clout. Nor has he been averse to stepping into the spotlight to make appeals for renewed bipartisanship and civility.
This drives progressives crazy. They feel that this is their moment, the historic opportunity to redress ancient wrongs—and maybe even exact a little payback on McConnell, Trump and other Republicans who spent four years running roughshod over the rules.
Manchin’s insistence on seeking a consensus that seems non-existent frustrates activist Democrats to the point of fury.
But they’re going to have to learn to live with it, for a couple of reasons.
The first is that they have no choice. There is no pressure they can exert on Manchin that is likely to move him. He is a Democrat representing a state that has a Republican governor. West Virginia’s other senator is Republican. If Manchin were to leave office, it’s not inevitable—and maybe not even likely—that another Democrat would replace him.
That would put Democrats in the minority and make McConnell majority leader again.
Smart Democrats realize that negotiating and being patient with Manchin is a better option than beating their heads against the stone wall that would be McConnell enthroned again.
But the second reason to work with Manchin is that he has a point.
The things Manchin says he cares about—the filibuster and other parliamentary rules and practices designed to encourage consensus and reconciliation—came into being for a reason.
That reason was to force America’s leaders to arrive at positions and policies the nation could support not just for a moment, but over the long haul.
Our government—particularly the Senate—isn’t supposed to work the way it has in recent years. It is supposed to be the instrument that allows us to resolve differences, rather than exacerbate them. When power switches from one party to another, that isn’t supposed to be an invitation to lay waste to everything that came earlier.
Our national decision-making process shouldn’t be like a game of ping pong.
Progressives, I know, argue that they’re only adopting the same tactics Trump, McConnell and Republicans used when they were in power. Conservatives contend that McConnell’s predecessor—former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada—started tearing pages out of the rule book long before they took over.
“He started it” is an argument that should be an argument that is persuasive only to small children, not mature adults.
It is not a triumph to become the mirror image of that which one opposes.
Joe Manchin is likely to be king of the hill until the next election.
And that may not be such a bad thing.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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