(CNN)In the space of just 1,000 words on Sunday, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) effectively quashed any chance for major liberal legislation between now and the 2022 election.
In an op-ed to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin made clear that not only will he vote against the “For the People” Act, the package of election reforms being pushed by his party but also opposed any effort to end the legislative filibuster as a way to pass several of President Joe Biden’s policy proposals.Both pronouncements do considerable damage to Democrats — not only on the policy front but also as both parties begin to prep their arguments ahead of the 2022 midterms.Let’s take a look at the “For the People” Act first.Democrats — on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — have cast the legislation as a necessary antidote to the ongoing efforts by Republican-controlled legislatures to put more strictures on voting. “Today, in the 21st century, there is a concerted, nationwide effort to limit the rights of citizens to vote and to truly have a voice in their own government,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York) in support of the “For the People” Act last month. In introducing the bill, Schumer called it “a top priority” for the 117th Congress.Read More
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Had Manchin supported the bill — even if he opposed changing filibuster rules to pass it — it would have allowed Schumer (and Democrats more broadly) to make the case that Republicans had blocked legislation every Democrat supported because they don’t want more people voting. Schumer was already teeing up that sort of rhetoric when he first introduced the legislation — calling new GOP-backed election laws “one of the greatest threats to modern American democracy.”That argument just had the wind entirely taken out of it by Manchin’s words on Sunday — these in particular:”Democrats in Congress have proposed a sweeping election reform bill called the For the People Act. This more than 800-page bill has garnered zero Republican support. Why? Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump because of actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?”The truth, I would argue, is that voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen.”Oomph. Manchin’s both-sides-are-to-blame argument hands Republicans a perfect talking point to use against Democrats. Even your own party didn’t sign on because it was a “partisan” bill — and other similar arguments.Then there’s Manchin’s reassertion that under no circumstances will he vote to eliminate the legislative filibuster. Wrote Manchin:”Some Democrats have again proposed eliminating the Senate filibuster rule in order to pass the For the People Act with only Democratic support. They’ve attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past …” … Yes, this process can be frustrating and slow. It will force compromises that are not always ideal. But consider the alternative. Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants?”Again, this pronouncement has policy and political implications.On the policy front, it effectively means that Democrats will need to find Republican support for almost anything they want to do legislatively between now and November 2022. Which means things like the “Fair Vote Act” are dead in the water. On the political front, it further divides the already riven Democratic base between those, like Manchin, who are focused on the need to find bipartisan solutions to America’s problems and liberals who insist that the GOP has zero interest in ever signing on to any compromise legislation and, as a result, that their side needs to use any means necessary to get their policy priorities passed.The worst part of all of this for Democrats? Manchin is effectively un-punishable. His state is overwhelmingly Republican and even the senator’s biggest detractors admit that no other Democrat could hold the seat for their side.As CNN’s Manu Raju noted on Monday morning in the wake of New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman referring to Manchin as the “next Mitch McConnell” on CNN:”Without Manchin, Mitch McConnell would be majority leader. With Manchin, Dems got a nearly $2 [trillion] Covid relief law that McConnell tried to derail.”And because of the clear conservative bent of West Virginia, Manchin not only won’t pay a price for his apostasy but will likely be lauded for it, meaning there is zero political incentive for him to change his mind or even amend any of his positions.In short: Joe Manchin is untouchable. And, as his sinking of the Democratic agenda in a single op-ed on Sunday showed, extremely powerful.