Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) is the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, and perhaps the most controversial, at least with the rest of his party.
On the one hand, Manchin’s willingness to oppose his party’s orthodoxies has allowed him to survive politically. He won re-election to a second full term in the Senate in 2018, just two years after President Trump won his status by more than 40 points.
But Manchin’s actions have left many in his party incandescent about his willingness to derail his agenda. To his inner critics, he has just ruined his best chance in years to enact radical change.
“Manchin is not particularly worried about the success of President Biden. He’s not particularly concerned about the needs of working people,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told SiriusXM’s “Dean Obeidallah Show” on Friday.
Manchin is powerful in part because of circumstance: In a 50-50 Senate, his party can pass almost nothing without him.
Here are five of the most dramatic cases of Manchin defying the party line.
July 2022: momentum for action on climate change founders
Manchin ignited many months of climate change negotiations on Thursday.
By his own account, he told Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) that it would be “unwise” to proceed.
Earlier in the week, Manchin had begun to distance himself from the negotiations, arguing that the imperative to lower gas prices weighed against any move to curb fossil fuel production.
Manchin then opened the door on Friday by telling a West Virginia radio station that he could revisit the proposals when the next inflation numbers are released next month.
But even if other Democrats were to take him at his word on the matter, and they are not in the mood to, they would have an extremely narrow window to pass the legislation. For complicated procedural reasons, such legislation would likely have to be passed before September 30.
Manchin’s refusal to endorse any climate proposal could doom the action for years to come, given the strong likelihood that Republicans will win the House in November.
Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) independently used the same term to describe Manchin’s stance this week: “Infuriating.”
October 2018 — Votes to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court
The 2018 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were tumultuous even by Trump-era standards.
Kavanaugh, a staunch conservative nominated to replace a more centrist figure, Justice Anthony Kennedy, faced sexual assault allegations dating back four decades to Christine Blasey Ford.
Liberal women, in particular, rallied to Ford’s side and demanded that Kavanaugh not be confirmed. Kavanaugh responded with tangible fury.
At the time, Republicans held a 51-49 majority in the Senate, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would ultimately decline to endorse Kavanaugh. That left Manchin and moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) as the crucial votes.
Within a few hours, they both endorsed Trump’s election. Manchin was the only Democrat to do so.
The West Virginia senator said in a statement that he had “reservations” about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, given Ford’s allegations and “the temperament [Kavanaugh] exposed at the hearing.
But he ultimately concluded that the judge “would rule in a manner consistent with our Constitution.”
The vote came about a month before Manchin faced re-election.
Last month, after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade, Manchin said he was “alarmed” by the actions of Kavanaugh and Judge Neil Gorsuch, the other Trump nominee for whom he voted.
The justices, Manchin said, had testified under oath that they believed Roe “set a legal precedent” only to choose to “reject the stability the ruling has brought to two generations of Americans.”
December 2021: President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ Legislation Sinks
Manchin’s most dramatic single intervention may have been his announcement that he would sink President Biden’s key piece of legislation, the “Build Back Better” bill.
The fact that he chose to announce his opposition on Fox News led to even more intense outrage from liberal Democrats.
“I have tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin told “Fox News Sunday” on Dec. 19, 2021.
Manchin then released a statement reiterating his opposition to the legislation, which would have extended an expanded child tax credit, helped with child care costs, taxed high-income earners more and taken significant action on climate change. , among other things.
His move was especially galling for Democrats who had spent months trying to get a package through Congress. The process often led to intra-partisan infighting that slowed momentum and sapped Biden’s political capital.
Manchin’s defenders point out that he never said he agreed with the kind of huge plan that the Democratic leadership floated from the start, a proposal that in one iteration totaled $3.5 trillion.
But progressives, always suspicious of Manchin, believed he led them and the president down the garden path. In the eyes of the left, Manchin never really intended to back a comprehensive social spending bill, no matter how many concessions he was offered. The value of the package had been reduced to $1.75 trillion by the time he broke off the talks.
Even the White House was furious. After Manchin announced opposition to him, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused him of “a sudden and inexplicable change in his position.”
June 2021: Ruins potential party unity in ‘For the People’ electoral reform legislation
Electoral reform was one of the main objectives of the Democrats when they regained the White House, and control of the Senate, in the 2020 elections.
Many in the party see American democracy in existential danger. Schumer declared that the protection of voting rights, and of the elections themselves, was a “top priority.”
The answer proposed by the party was the bill “For the people”.
This would have mandated two weeks of early voting in federal elections, made voter registration automatic rather than voluntary, restored voting rights to felons who had served time, and allowed same-day registration.
The legislation never made a clear path through the Senate, requiring 60 votes to pass in the absence of filibuster reform. But Manchin denied Democrats even the claim that they were united behind the proposal.
In an op-ed for his home state, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin complained that voting rights arguments had become “overtly politicized” and defended Republicans against criticism sent by members of his own party.
“This 800+ page bill has not garnered any Republican support. Why? Are the same Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump for actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? he wrote.
In the same op-ed, Manchin reiterated his opposition to filibuster reform, driving the final nail into the coffin of the “For the People” proposal.
Manchin returned three months later to help push through a more modest measure, the Freedom to Vote Act, which he said had a better chance of winning GOP support.
It did not, running aground soon after.
2013 – present: thwarts filibuster reform
Democrats often bristle at Manchin because they believe he is acting in bad faith.
Skeptics contend that he shows an interest in striking deals that he has no sincere intention of reaching, before walking away amid a flurry of publicity.
In fairness to the West Virginia senator, liberals also bristle at a position he has consistently held: opposition to filibuster reform.
In one of many statements outlining his position, Manchin’s office detailed his strong position dating back to 2013, when he opposed such reform while Democrats held a majority in the Senate.
Progressives argue that obstructionism is antidemocratic in nature; and that the case for exceptions must prevail as the nation grapples with serious issues ranging from a rising tide of authoritarianism to the rescinding of the constitutional right to abortion.
Manchin’s answer has always been, “No.”
And, in a 50-50 Senate, that’s the ball game.
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