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When Democrats took over Congress and the White House — with only Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote giving them a Senate majority — they were very open about their plans: they would do away with the filibuster and then enact their radical agenda with a one-vote majority. Most significantly, this meant that they would add two new states (D.C. and Puerto Rico) and pack the Supreme Court. Moreover, since voters have had the temerity to question election results, they’re desperate to enact H.R. 1, their “For the People” bill, which would give the federal government (read: Democrats) control over elections.
What they hadn’t counted on was that Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) would refuse to jettison the filibuster. Sinema, who started in the Green Party, has proven to have a steel spine. She knows that her return to D.C. requires her to display some moderation, and she has pushed back against Democrat extremism. I may dislike her politics, but I admire the fact that she will not let her party push her around.
Joe Manchin is a different story. He’s been in D.C. a long, long time and has proven repeatedly that he can be bullied into changing his position. He’s good at telling the relatively conservative folks back home in West Virginia that he’ll resist some crazy Democrat scheme. Then, later, he’ll find a way to explain why he went along with the scheme.
For example, less than a month ago, after writing a powerful op-ed for the Washington Post defending the filibuster, word emerged that Manchin was willing to auction off his vote on it. He’s been silent about the filibuster since then — but he’s already revealed himself.
Manchin’s negotiations remind me of the very old joke about the well-dressed man who goes up to a beautiful woman at a cocktail party and asks if she’ll sleep with him for a million dollars. Concluding that he can make good on that offer, the woman purrs, “Well, I think we could make something happen.”
The man nods sagely. “Good. Now, will you sleep with me for $10?”
The woman, outraged, demands, “What do you think I am? A prostitute?”
The man answers, “We’ve already established what you are. Now we’re just negotiating the price.”
Manchin is not a prostitute, but it does seem that, for him, the filibuster isn’t so much a principled issue as it is a price issue. Democrats know that, which is why news has emerged that Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) is pressuring Biden to pressure Manchin on the filibuster:
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told POLITICO Biden “should endorse” the idea of creating a carveout to the legislative filibuster in the Senate for legislation that applies to the Constitution. In effect, the reform would make it possible for Democrats to pass their sweeping elections reform bill and another bill reauthorizing key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act with just Democratic support.
It’s a sentiment the congressman says he’s shared with White House counselor Steve Ricchetti and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond as well. “I’ve even told that to the vice president,” Clyburn said.
Biden could “pick up the phone and tell [Sen.] Joe Manchin, ‘Hey, we should do a carve out.'” Clyburn said, referring to the centrist West Virginia Democrat who has resisted filibuster reform. “I don’t care whether he does it in a microphone or on the telephone — just do it.”
Clyburn’s word carries weight with Biden because it was Clyburn who pushed Biden into first place by convincing South Carolina’s Black Democrats to choose Biden over Bernie. It was also Clyburn who worked with Obama to install Harris as his veep candidate.
The big question now is how Manchin will respond to this renewed pressure. Biden is a puppet to the mysterious “they” to whom he keeps referring (i.e., “they” don’t want him to say something or he’ll get in trouble with “them”). Biden is obviously scared of the forces propping him up in office. The big question is whether “they” also scare Manchin — or if they have something that will entice him away from his current stand on the filibuster. If they do, we may soon be looking at a very different America.