“I’m sick of talking about Mr. Manchin,” Senator Bernie Sanders sighed on MSNBC Thursday, referring to his fellow Senate members. The frustration of left-wing politics is understandable: in recent weeks there hasn’t been a day when the US media hasn’t mentioned Manchin’s name multiple times. His ideas, frequencies and conversations about the most important laws were reported by portals and newspapers. In the past week alone, two newspapers – The New Yorker and The Washington Post – have published the long files of the West Virginia senator.
The interest of a relatively unknown 74-year-old politician stems from two things. The first is the situation in the Senate where the Democrats have the smallest possible advantage over the Republicans (both parties have 50 votes, but the vice president has the decisive vote). The second is the views of Manchin, who represents a moribund faction in American politics: a moderately conservative Democrat and outspoken supporter of compromise over partisan divides. Plus a senator and former governor of a deeply conservative state.
Both of those things made Manchin—who was previously known to live on a yacht in Washington—the ultimate speaker of Libra, and perhaps practically the most important member of Congress. For the same reason, according to critics on the left, the politician may also become a grave digger on the legislative ambitions of the Biden administration, and even the president’s chances of reelection.
In all of the Biden administration’s most important initiatives to date — a massive $2 million bailout of the economy, and an equally ambitious plan to invest in infrastructure or electoral system reforms — Manchin played a key role. First, he expressed his doubts, persuaded them to compromise with the Republicans, and finally, after long negotiations and gain concessions, he agreed to the initiatives of his party.
This has been the case in most cases thus far, with perhaps the most important exception: the repeal of the parliamentary procedure in the Senate known as the deferral. This is a procedure that has been around for decades, in effect allowing a minority of 41 members of the House to block most bills. And since in the current polarized political climate, the chances of winning 60 votes of support for any major reform are a miracle, it may be impossible to deliver on many of Joe Biden’s promises.
An example is the situation on Tuesday, when Senate Republicans – using stalling – halted an electoral system reform proposed by Democrats, aimed at facilitating participation in elections. Although the project – thanks to the initiative of Manchin, who wanted to reach an agreement with the Republicans – was significantly curtailed with respect to the initial proposals, in the end it did not win a single vote from the opposition party.
Although the stall could be ousted by a simple majority in the Senate, Manchin has so far maintained his opposition in the name of cross-party compromise.
“It is time to end the political games and begin a new era of multipartisanship, in which we will find common ground on the most important debates facing our country,” the senator wrote in a text for The Washington Post.
The West Virginia politician is not entirely alone in this regard from the left. Another defiant Democrat, Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, took a similar position. According to Axios, other moderate politicians also secretly had doubts, fearing that the overthrow of the measure would turn against them after a change of power.
Although this approach to electoral reform failed, Manchin won a personal victory two days later when a group of senators from both parties announced an agreement on one of the largest infrastructure investment plans in history, totaling more than $1.2 trillion. Although there was still a long way to go for the plan to pass, it was a clear sign that compromise across divisions was not impossible. However, not everyone was convinced of this.
– I consider him a nice person, but what he says is in today’s reality pure naivety. Republicans have no interest in working with us. An aide to one of Manchin’s Senate colleagues says the situation in which the state’s fate depends on a West Virginia senator is an aberration.
Another adds, however, that his position makes political sense – Manchin represents one of the poorest and most conservative states in the United States, with Donald Trump winning in 2020 by 39 percentage points. He notes that Manchin’s strategy also allows him to leverage state investments and funds for the benefit of his state.
“Moreover, he just thinks that if he wants a chance to be reelected, he can’t be a ‘normal’ Democrat working alongside all these ‘socialists’ in Washington. Which doesn’t change the fact that our frustration is great. Bernie Sanders isn’t the only one who’s sick of it. Talking about Manchina – explains the interlocutor of the Polish news agency.