The Mythical World of Bipartisanship in Which Joe Manchin Dwells

8 mins read

It’s good to hear that Sen. Joe Manchin is finally on board with protecting voting rights. Unfortunately, as long as he supports the filibuster, voting rights bills will never get through the Senate.

Manchin recently issued a policy statement which called for voting rights reforms that progressive legislators have supported for months. Manchin championed 15 consecutive days of early voting and expansions to mail-in voting, getting rid of gerrymandering and even making Election Day a national holiday. And while his mention of voter identification raised grumbles among some activists, his proposal swiftly received the stamp of approval from Stacey Abrams.

That’s when Republicans pounced.

Sen. Mitch McConnell hastily convened a press conference to announce that he expects all Republicans to oppose Manchin’s proposal. During that event, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri derided Manchin’s statement, saying, “I actually think when Stacey Abrams immediately endorsed Sen. Manchin’s proposal, it became the Stacey Abrams substitute.” Yes, the GOP wasted no time in shooting down this latest attempt to protect voting rights, just like they have sabotaged every effort to preserve the franchise during the current legislative session. While there may be the occasional Republican, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who will back some of Manchin’s ideas, the Senate minority leader has made it clear that these bills will not survive an intact filibuster.

Still, you’ve got to give Manchin a proverbial “A” for effort in trying to maintain bipartisanship in the Senate, even though all this focus on protecting the minority has gotten him precisely nowhere. In 2019, he co-sponsored the original For the People Act. Of course, that was easier to do when the legislation had no chance to get through the barrier of a McConnell-controlled Senate. When it became clear that Republicans would never support this landmark voting rights legislation, Manchin changed direction to simply supporting reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. He later clarified this to say he favors the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Then, he published an op-ed saying he would not vote in favor of the For the People Act, unironically writing, “I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy. . . .” Finally, he laid out his current voting rights priorities this week in his policy statement.

But each effort, each attempt, each entreaty made by Manchin was rebuffed by the GOP. To be fair, it’s not simply voting rights that are opposed by the Republicans. They want to stop every Democratic initiative. McConnell recently said that their entire goal is to obstruct Biden’s agenda. This was reinforced by the vow of Republican Sen. John Barrasso to make Biden a “one-half-term president.” Worse, earlier this week McConnell indicated that if Republicans take back the Senate, he is unlikely to let Biden fill any vacancy on the Supreme Court.

So it appears that we are back to square one: unless the filibuster is struck down or — at minimum — amended, there will be no voting rights legislation this congressional term.

This is why Manchin’s quixotic quest for bipartisanship is simply fantastical, extremely dangerous, and quite possibly lethal to our system of government. Republican legislatures in 14 different states have passed voter suppression laws making it more difficult to vote by imposing new voter ID requirements and purging the voter rolls. These statutes are making it harder to vote by mail. They are both reducing the number of polling locations and the hours during which these places will be open, while also imposing criminal penalties on people who offer food or water to voters stuck on the long lines caused by these very restrictions. And, finally, Republican legislatures have given themselves the power to replace state elections officials with their own selection if they are unhappy with the result.

Bipartisanship is a noble pursuit. Unquestionably, a two-party system works best when both sides agree that there is a problem, approach it with different yet viable solutions, and then work together to resolve the issue to the benefit of their citizens. While not everyone gets everything they want, usually they are satisfied with this compromise because it hopefully guarantees continued cooperation in the future and results in a healthier long-term polity.

But you cannot have bipartisanship between two political parties when one of the two cares only about advancing their own interests and will block anything they perceive as a threat to their individual fiefdoms — which, of course, is exactly what McConnell has repeatedly said he will do.

Moreover, exactly why is Manchin seeking bipartisanship at the expense of laws his constituents clearly support? Polls consistently show that American citizens overwhelmingly support the For the People Act on a bipartisan basis. At least 60% of people want to end gerrymandering, favor 15 days of early voting, and approve of same-day voter registration. Meanwhile, the bipartisan windmill at which Manchin tilts allows a pronounced minority to control this country’s voting rights. Republican senators represent approximately 43% of the electorate. Even Trump, with his 74 million votes, only received support from roughly 35% of the 212 million eligible voters in the United States and a mere 22.5% of the entire population. So if it’s “bipartisanship” that Joe Manchin wants, he can get it — by prioritizing the preservation of voting rights over the kleptocratic objections of the GOP.

It seems that Manchin has two choices: he can either continue to uphold the filibuster and insist on “bipartisanship” in the Senate, even though his legislative passion is decidedly unrequited on the part of Republicans, or he can speed the death of democracy in America. And since Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for a vote on the For the People Act today, he will have to make his choice this week.

Choose wisely, Senator Manchin.

The future of democracy in an entire country, and perhaps the world, hangs in the balance.

Image by Doug Chayka.

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