The Week (US)

Manchin’s stance threatens Biden agenda


What happened

Panicked Democrats tried to fashion a path forward for federal voting rights legislatio­n—and for Biden’s ambitious progressiv­e agenda—after Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia declared he would not support the sweeping voting bill H.R. 1 or a change to Senate filibuster rules. “I believe that partisan voting legislatio­n will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy,” the centrist Democrat wrote in a column in his home state’s Charleston Gazette-Mail. “Furthermor­e, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.” Manchin’s announceme­nt effectivel­y derailed Democrats’ hopes of passing the voting bill, which would establish national voting standards and nullify restrictiv­e voting measures being passed in many Republican states. Co-sponsored by every Democrat other than Manchin, it faces unanimous Republican opposition in the 50-50 Senate. Manchin’s announceme­nt enraged progressiv­es, who call the wave of restrictiv­e state voting bills a threat to democracy. Manchin “is doing the work of the Republican Party,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.).

As Democrats grappled with the implicatio­ns of Manchin’s opposition to passing legislatio­n without Republican support—which threatens bills on gun safety, immigratio­n reform, and climate change—efforts to reach a compromise on an infrastruc­ture bill collapsed. President Biden said he and Senate Republican­s were too far apart on the size of the package and the inclusion of tax increases to pay for it. The impasse drove home the increasing­ly dim prospects for Biden’s legislativ­e agenda if the filibuster remains intact. “It’s a real blow,” said University of Chicago political scientist William Howell. “The Biden agenda has been kneecapped by this.”

What the editorials said

“Manchin is playing political chess—and doing Democrats a favor,” said The Wall Street Journal. The “canny operator” knows pushing through a far-left agenda unilateral­ly would prompt a “backlash that would cost Democrats control of Congress in 2022.” Many Democrats in swing districts are quietly happy to let Manchin be the fall guy. Democrats “still have a budget reconcilia­tion card to play,” and Manchin will probably support “a large tax-and-spend bill traveling under the false flag of ‘infrastruc­ture.’”

The truth is, “H.R. 1 is poorly matched to the moment,” said The New York Times. The sprawling bill is simply not feasible in a divided Congress and nation, and would not stop state GOP legislator­s from passing laws that would enable them to “overturn the will of voters.” Instead of waging a futile fight, Democrats should “confront the acute crisis at hand by crafting a more focused bill” that might draw wider support, aimed at preventing “voting access rollbacks” and “subversion of election results” by partisan state officials.

What the columnists said

“Manchin has become the Senate’s Walter Mitty,” said James Downie in The Washington Post. He sees himself as a noble champion of a long-dead bipartisan spirit who will save the country by recruiting “10 good Republican­s” who do not exist. Earth to Joe: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly vowed to block “100 percent” of Biden’s agenda. Manchin says that “partisan policymaki­ng” will “destroy” democracy, said Jonathan Chait in But Republican state legislatur­es are forcing through racist “vote suppressio­n laws on a party-line basis”—and Manchin’s incoherent stance guarantees they will succeed.

Cries of racism are an attempt to “bludgeon Manchin into submission,” said Rich Lowry in the National Review. A rare Democrat with principles, Manchin understand­s the filibuster is a “guardrail” designed to keep a party with a slim majority from “enacting a farreachin­g radical agenda” by ramming through bills like H.R. 1, “a constituti­onally dubious monstrosit­y that would trample on state voting laws” and federalize elections.

“Biden’s hopes for a historic legislativ­e legacy” appear to be “headed for a wall,” said Stephen Collinson in For all the hopeful FDR comparison­s and his early victory on Covid relief, “the moment was always going to come when his vast political agenda would hit the blockade of Washington’s uncompromi­sing political math.” Manchin’s stubborn intransige­nce, a divided Democratic coalition, and “a Republican Party transforme­d into Trump’s personalit­y cult” have now brought Biden “to a moment of truth.” It remains to be seen how much of his dream of being a transforma­tive president can be salvaged.

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The center of attention in Congress

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