The Week (US)
Manchin’s stance threatens Biden agenda
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 NYMag.com. 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 CNN.com. 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.