Senator Manchin of West Virginia, putative Democrat, published a statement of principles of sorts in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on June 6, 2021. https://bit.ly/3x5q9S8 In matters of this import, reasonable people will expect the ideas expressed to have been expressly approved by the senator. What, then, is the putative Democrat from West Virginia telling us?
The title of the piece tells us that Manchin is going directly in the face of everyone who is concerned about voter suppression in the United States: “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act.” Then, in a remarkable exercise in double speak, Manchin purports to explain why he thinks this is justified. To more clearly set out what Manchin is saying, along with the foreseeable consequences, I have arranged his statements in a table:
Principle Manchin Position Result Effect on Democracy
|Right to vote critical to democracy||For it||Manchin looks good but ….||Zero, just platitude|
|Right to vote is not about party or politics||For it||Manchin looks good but ….||Zero, just platitude|
|Protecting that right should never be partisan||For non-partisanship||Good in theory but if Republicans are partisan anyway, law is defeated||Negative|
|Elections should be fair, accessible and secure||For it||Good if parties agree on what is fair & secure; if not, Repubs defeat law||Negative|
|Early voting is good||For it||Good if parties agree but if not, Repubs defeat early voting||Negative|
|Party labels can’t prevent doing what is right||For it||Wrong; party labels often prevent doing what is right||Negative|
|Debate about voting rights is about partisan advantage||Against it||Wrong; debate is abt voting rts or voter suppression||Negative|
|Partisan policy re voting rights is anti-democratic||Against it||Manchin looks good but …||Negative|
|We should get along||For it||Manchin looks good but …||Negative|
|Repubs who voted to impeach Trump shoudd vote for the bill||For it||Manchin looks good but …||Negative|
|Partisan voting reform will lead to more partisanship||Against it||Republicans should get their way so we can be non-partisan||Negative|
|Democrats are just as bad as Republicans re filibuster||Against it||Republicans should get their way so we can be non-partisan||Negative|
|Founders built checks/balances to force compromise||For it||Republicans should get their way, even though filibuster not in Constitution||Negative|
|Absolute power is bad||Against it||If Republicans get their way, we will have solutions||Negative – Republicans will defeat bill|
|Better way is to “find it together”||For it||Republicans defeat the bill||Negative|
Manchin goes on to argue that the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized five times with bipartisan support, overlooking that the Supreme Court, at the behest of Shelby County, Alabama, gutted the VRA in 2013, leading to immediate resumption of voter suppression laws that continues to this day. The reality is that Republicans who, with the filibuster at their disposal, control the outcome in the Senate with Manchin’s support, are dead set against the readoption of the key provisions of the VRA in any form.
Manchin’s enthusiasm about having one Republican senator supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is just so much hypocritical deflection. There is zero evidence to think Lisa Murkowski’s support is going to lead Republican senators to support the legislation. It is therefore completely transparent cynicism for Manchin to declare:
I continue to engage with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about the value of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and I am encouraged by the desire from both sides to transcend partisan politics and strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights.
That is politician double speak for “I don’t want this legislation but I’m going to act like I do. Trust me.”
Thus, Manchin, the Republican sheep in Democrat’s clothes, concludes with his rejection of the For the People Act and rejection of efforts to end the filibuster that gives the Republicans a chokehold on the separate voting legislation, all on the blatantly false premise that “bipartisan compromise” is still possible. Manchin’s hypocrisy is transparent. The question now is: what will the Democratic Party do about this continuing roadblock to meaningful protection of voting rights in America? The Democratic Party is never going to get the cooperation of Joe Manchin who is full of platitudes about bipartisanship and cooperation when he knows full well that neither of those is going to happen in the face of trenchant Republican opposition.
We are at the crossroads now – one path leads to restoring voting rights and protecting democracy, while the other leads directly to more voter suppression and, potentially, the establishment of a dictatorship as Donald Trump has made clear he intends to pursue.
Jennifer Rubin’s opinion piece in the Washington Post yesterday has it right. https://wapo.st/3puKvkV Manchin’s objection comes down to the fact that Republicans object. His objection, therefore, has nothing to do with bipartisanship. That is a smokescreen for the position that the Republicans should get their way, which is the way of voter suppression and not the path to restoring the highly effective processes that were in place under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Rubin argues,
Manchin’s bland platitudes suggest he prefers stalemate to taking hard votes. The status quo leaves him with latitude to make holier-than-thou pronouncements to decry both sides.
Rubin proposes a series of specific actions to bring the Manchin play to a head. All make great sense. Democratic leadership must demand that Manchin,
(1) “come up with 10 Republicans for H.R. 4 and for a slimmed down H.R. 1” and “four more Republicans to support the Jan. 6 commission.”
If he cannot, then his thesis that the filibuster promotes debate and makes way for compromise collapses and his role in promoting the tyranny of the minority is laid bare.
(2) spell out what reforms he would accept. Is requiring Republicans to hold the floor (i.e., demanding a talking filibuster) “weakening” the rule? …. If the filibuster is simply a means of thwarting any reasonable legislation, why is it worth preserving? What if the integrity of our democracy is at stake?”
Elevating the filibuster to the sine qua non of our constitutional system is absurd. It is not in the Constitution. It protects no constitutional principle. It does not constitute a check or balance on the other branches as, for example, a veto override or the Senate’s advise and consent power on nominees. It does not protect minority rights when it is used to thwart voting rights protection for disfavored minorities.
(3) “Democrats should compel Republicans to filibuster again and again the bills Manchin himself thinks are entirely reasonable. Bring up H.R. 4. Put the Jan. 6 commission back on the floor. After 5 or 6 of these rounds, Manchin’s bipartisan fetish may subside.”
(4) Democrats should also “demand he present compromise legislation that has 10 Republicans. What magic formula is he aware of that has evaded others? Where are four more Republicans in addition to the six who would support the Jan. 6 commission?”
(5) “voters and voting rights activists need to confront Manchin civilly and peacefully, but with unrelenting demands for him to justify his position. An array of interest groups hurt by Republican obstruction and assaults on voting rights — e.g., organized labor, seniors, the disabled community — must turn up the heat. Most of all, Capitol Hill police and other law enforcement officials must demand passage of the Jan. 6 commission — or Manchin’s agreement to push it through with less than 60 votes. They and the widows of law enforcement personnel killed from the Jan. 6 events need to be omnipresent and unrelenting.”
The final word from Rubin, well and truly said:
The time for Manchin’s excuse-mongering is over. It is time to demonstrate his bipartisan notions are more than fantasy.