Manchin Deserts the Fight for Democracy

Yesterday he came out against the For the People Act and for the filibuster, which dooms the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as well.

At the state level, Republicans have been assaulting democracy in every state where they have power. They have been restricting opportunities to vote, taking special aim at those methods frequently used by non-Whites (like ending Sunday early voting, around which Black churches have traditionally organized souls-to-the-polls drives). They support partisan gerrymandering, and hope to construct districts in ways that will give them majorities in legislative bodies, even if their voter-suppression tactics don’t deliver them a majority of votes cast. (See Max Boot’s column for details.)

Democrats have two bills aimed at protecting democracy: the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Both have passed the House, but will likely face a Republican filibuster in the Senate. This has been widely seen as Democrats’ most justifiable reason to eliminate or significantly alter the filibuster: When anti-majority tactics are used to strengthen minority rule, we are on a slippery slope towards some new form of government that does not answer to the People. (Boot concludes: “Senate Democrats have to choose between saving the filibuster and saving democracy. They can’t do both.”)

The likelihood of passing either bill took a huge blow yesterday when 50th Democratic Senate vote Joe Manchin published an op-ed “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act“.

Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized. Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.

As such, congressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.

It’s true that passing the For the People Act will give Democrats a partisan advantage, compared to not passing it: More people voting tends to be good for Democrats. Creating a mechanism for candidates to depend on many small donors rather than a few big ones is good for Democrats. But both of those features are good for democracy, not just for Democrats. They only work against Republicans because the GOP has stopped trying to appeal to the majority of Americans.

Republicans have attacked democracy, so I suppose that makes defending democracy “partisan”. But what is the alternative?

Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy. … Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants?

I would edit Manchin’s question by replacing “one party” with “the People”. And then I would answer: “Yes, subject to the limitations of the Constitution.” The People elect representatives to the House and Senate, who then carry out the People’s will by passing laws under the umbrella of the Constitution, which mentions neither parties nor the filibuster. “Party” is a red herring, particularly when we are talking about the vision of the Founders, who hoped parties would not develop.

Manchin holds out hope that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act will be sufficient to protect democracy, and that it can pass.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would update the formula states and localities must use to ensure proposed voting laws do not restrict the rights of any particular group or population. My Republican colleague, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has joined me in urging Senate leadership to update and pass this bill through regular order. 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.

It will be wonderful if a Republican like Murkowski can find a way to vote for the Lewis Act without gutting it first. Maybe Mitt Romney or Susan Collins could vote for it too. But Mitch McConnell will not support it and there will not be 10 Republican votes to override a filibuster, which Manchin continues to support. (“I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”)

So despite his intention to vote for the Lewis Act, Manchin’s support of the filibuster guarantees its demise as well. Democrats control both houses of Congress, but they will do nothing to protect their voters.

Manchin had similar bipartisan fantasies about the January 6 Commission, which got six Republican votes and failed. He fantasizes about a bipartisan infrastructure bill, when Republicans have yet to make a serious proposal.

At this point we have to wonder if he will ever face reality.

The two-votes-per-state structure of the Senate already penalizes large cities and gives Republicans more power than their rural voters should be able to command. If we further empower them with the filibuster, then any progressive change becomes impossible, unless something like 70% of the country supports it. (Gun control shows that even larger majorities aren’t enough sometimes.)

When a party wins the presidency and both houses of Congress, it should be able to implement its agenda, as long as it leaves voters the option to change their minds at the next election. Otherwise, Emma Goldman‘s observation applies: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

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  • SamuraiArtGuy  On June 7, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    we have to wonder if he will ever face reality.

    Oh he is. It is a seemingly hopeful bipartisanship wrapped in a cynical awareness that if he supported Joe Biden’s agenda he will not get re=elected in blood-red West Virginia.

    Manchin makes a seemingly good faith argument for both the Filibuster and bipartisanship, which the current GOP has not the slightest interest in, or in arguing in good faith. The GOP has utterly weaponized the bad-faith argument and has explicitly rejected bipartisanship beyond, “do what we want.”

    But Joe is in a state that went 69% for Trump and if he doesn’t present himself as sympathetic to their views, he’s TOAST in 2022, and the seat goes Red. Probably for a decade. Capito is a reliable GOP foot solder, as are all our representatives. The Democratic Party is nearly crushed out of existence in WV, many officials switched party to team red to have any hope of re-election, including our Governor, Jim Justice. Manchin is not willing to fall on his sword to protect Democracy. I have ceased to expect any kind of courage from any elected official in the current political climate.

    The voter suppression tactics, and the rewriting of election rules to allow partisan oversight of election results, left unchallenged, means that the razor thin victories made in 2020 would be far more difficult, almost impossible, to repeat.

    This likely means the end of any significant progress the Biden Administration will make. The Dems may very likely lose the House in 2022, and between voter suppression tactics and pro-GOP state election rule changes, could lose the Senate and White House in 2024. Which could spell a very entrenched minority rule and the end of small-d democracy as we once knew it.

  • ramseyman  On June 13, 2021 at 11:18 am

    Here’s what I observe. Voting does change things, IF everyone gets to vote. We’ve come close to achieving full enfranchisement but have never quite gotten there. That potential for change is exactly why Republicans are busily making it illegal in so many ways, Emma Goldman notwithstanding.


  • By Voting for Change | The Weekly Sift on June 7, 2021 at 12:39 pm

    […] This week’s featured posts are “Trump’s Next Coup” and “Manchin Deserts the Fight for Democracy“. […]

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