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Manchin gives Democrats a path forward — if they want it

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Writing for the New York Times, Ezra Klein elucidates the Joe Manchin III dynamic in the Democratic Party better than just about anyone.

The senator from West Virginia is the Democrat the progressive base loves to hate the most, mostly by virtue of his reluctance to support their ideas on things like ending the filibuster. But he also holds a seat Democrats have virtually no business holding, essentially giving Democrats a majority they should quite arguably be grateful for, given the circumstances:

By the standards of the age, Manchin is a political magician. West Virginia, the state he represents as a Democrat in the Senate, has a 35.5 point lean toward the Republican Party, according to FiveThirtyEight. To put that into context, there is only one Republican in the Senate representing a state that’s even mildly bluish, and that’s Susan Collins, from Maine, which has a 4-point Democratic bias.

Put simply, Manchin shouldn’t exist. And Democrats cannot take him for granted. Their Senate majority, and thus the whole of their legislative agenda, hinges on his ability to win elections anyone else would lose. None of that makes Manchin’s every decision laudable, or even wise, but it demands recognition. He has honed instincts worth respecting. And now, in the 50-50 Senate that teeters on his vote, he is the most powerful legislator of our age.

Klein’s argument is essentially that Democrats would be wise to accept the flimsiness of their Senate majority and embrace the art of the possible. That’s not a fun thing to do for a party anxious to use its sudden control of all three levers of power in Washington, but it’s reality. Manchin’s incentives don’t line up with that progressive base, and no amount of bemoaning that fact is going to change things. And given how Manchin’s instincts have served him well in such a state, Klein suggests, why not at least try to latch on and let him guide the ship?

Democrats could certainly do worse when it comes to voting rights legislation.

Manchin’s opposition to the For the People Act is among the chief examples of his alienating of the progressive base. Manchin didn’t necessarily object to anything specific in the bill, critics noted, but as with many things he said his line was that it needed to be bipartisan.

Liberals have quite validly argued that giving Republicans veto power over the Democratic agenda — which is effectively what Manchin’s position entailed — was a very bad idea. Arguably even more so than his opposition to nixing the filibuster and its 60-vote threshold, this threatens to hamstring Biden’s agenda because it would mean Democrats wouldn’t even be able to get all 50 of their own votes on key bills.

How can they argue that their bills are worth passing under a 60-vote threshold when even one of their own members vote against them? Even if there were no filibuster, and even on things that can be massaged to pass via reconciliation and its 50-vote threshold, failing to get Manchin would probably kill legislation.

Manchin offered that base something of an olive branch Wednesday — a chance to at least try his approach. And at this point, there’s a compelling argument that it might be worth trying, even as it still seems very unlikely to gain enough of the bipartisan support Manchin is so keen on.

Manchin released a series of proposals on voting rights that he hopes can garner bipartisan support. They come up well shy of the existing For the People Act. And again, it’s worth extremely healthy skepticism that Republicans would ever support them, but a closer look reveals the pressure it could at least apply.

Why? The proposals he emphasizes have broad support and in some cases cater to the GOP’s own proposals. Among the key items:

  • Making Election Day a public holiday: 71 percent of Democratic-leaning voters and 59 percent of Republican-leaning voters favor this
  • Banning gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor one party or another (arguably the most significant thing Manchin signed on to): Such measures have repeatedly passed when brought to voters in states that allowed such a vote
      • Require voter ID “with allowable alternatives” (a watered-down proposal of something Republicans have pushed for for many years): Overwhelming support in most polls
  • Allow elections officials in states to purge voter rolls using government records: Another initiative favored by Republicans, often controversially in states like Georgia

As with any legislation, the devil would be in the details. These are ideas rather than specific proposals, and such a wide-ranging piece of legislation would have something for lots of people (especially Republicans) to differ with. Republicans have also been able to get voter ID and purges of voter rolls at the state level without relying on federal legislation. The idea that they would sign off on getting rid of gerrymandering (which is currently a big boon for them) and making Election Day a holiday (which they have opposed) in the name of these other things seems far-fetched right now.

But Manchin’s intransigence also provides Democrats an opportunity. Here’s a guy that has regularly set himself up as a foil of the progressive base. Here’s a guy with a very conservative constituency. He’s apparently signing on to things that have broad, bipartisan support. Republicans would very likely oppose a bill reflecting Manchin’s priorities, but there is some utility in forcing the issue.

Getting to 50 votes would begin that process — far from completing it. But at this point, it’s probably more productive than wishing a West Virginia Democrat were a California Democrat and that Manchin might open the floodgates to more progressive legislation by nixing the filibuster.

And if nothing else — and this might be the most compelling argument — pushing his specific ideas and seeing if they can actually achieve the kind of bipartisanship Manchin holds so dear would at least put pressure on him personally to do what Democrats have long argued is the logical conclusion all of this: abandon that hope.

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Written by Politixia

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