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What Manchin Knows — And What Progressives Could Learn

The 2010 Senate candidate was almost a caricature of the sort of Republican who drives Democrats crazy. He bragged about his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, criticized "Obamacare" and dramatized his support for coal by picking up a rifle and blasting away at a bill aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the guy who turned those themes into a victory was not a Republican. He was a Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And he's somehow proven to be both the indispensable senator for President Joe Biden and a villain to many in his party.

You might think Democrats would be building shrines to the person who has kept them in control of the Senate. A Democrat has about as much business representing West Virginia — which Donald Trump won by a 39-point margin — as a vegan sandwich has on the Burger King menu.

Of course, Burger King does offer a vegan sandwich — the Impossible Burger. And it has succeeded much as Manchin has, by doing an excellent impersonation of something people like. Impossible Foods offers an appealing oxymoron — "meat made from plants," as it advertises.

Manchin does the same, compiling a center-right voting record from his desk on the liberal side of the chamber. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that during Trump's tenure, he sided with the administration 50.4 percent of the time. He scores low with both the American Conservative Union (27 percent) and the American Civil Liberties Union (23 percent). The website GovTrack grades Manchin as more conservative than two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

It's no wonder that liberals differ with him on many issues. But they have let his refusal to support reform of the filibuster or the Democratic election reform bill cloud their minds. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) called Manchin "the new Mitch McConnell." Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) accused him of complicity in "voter suppression."

The attacks bring to mind what Biden recalls his own father saying: "Don't compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative." It doesn't seem to occur to Bowman that if not for Manchin, the Senate would be under the control of the real Mitch McConnell, who would use a GOP majority to block Biden on almost every front. For Manchin to align himself with Ocasio-Cortez would produce a different type of voter suppression — of West Virginians willing to cast their ballots for him.

It's easy for politicians like these to fault Manchin for being insufficiently progressive, because they don't have to run for office in West Virginia. Bowman's district went for Biden by a 52-point margin; Ocasio-Cortez's by 45 points. They can lurch as far left as they want without fearing defeat at the polls.

A Democratic politician in West Virginia, however, has to carefully balance party priorities with political survival. That Manchin has been able to win statewide over and over is not an achievement; it's a miracle. He's been able to do it largely by consistently staying arms-length from the prevailing ideology of his party.

In that endeavor, his recent vilification by progressives is more likely to help him at home than to hurt him. It reinforces Manchin's priceless reputation as a different kind of Democrat.

But they have reason to be grateful to him. One reason is that he's not entirely averse to taking political risks on behalf of his party's agenda. The website FiveThirtyEight found he has voted with Biden 100 percent of the time so far.

Without Manchin, Biden would be unable to get many of his judicial nominees confirmed. Republicans would chair all Senate committees and determine the legislative calendar. The president would face a stone wall of GOP opposition. Today's Democratic frustration would give way to outright despair.

What the party needs is not fewer people like Manchin but more. The Democratic approach works well in presidential elections, but it has yet to produce lasting majorities in Congress — and it has been a dismal failure in state elections.

Manchin has demonstrated that it's possible for a Democrat to win in the reddest of states by selectively straying from liberal orthodoxy. If many others would follow his example, Democrats would have a stronger hand, which would make Manchin less of an impediment to their agenda.

Progressives who think they are at odds with him are really at odds with political reality. Manchin never forgets that, as Shakespeare wrote, there is no virtue like necessity.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Why Democrats Should Take Manchin’s Voting Rights Deal

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) opposition to Democrats' push to expand voting rights has been a deep point of contention that has left the lawmaker on the outs with his political party. However, Democratic lawmakers may want to take a hard look at his latest counteroffer, according to election law scholar Richard Hasen.

In a piece published by Slate, Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, laid out the details of Manchin's counteroffer to the "For the People" bill, HR-1. The lawmaker's proposal addresses a number of the original bill's highest priorities where voting rights and campaign finance are concerned.

According to Hasen, Manchin's proposal includes "a requirement of 15 days of early voting in federal elections, automatic voter registration, limits on partisan gerrymandering, and improved campaign finance disclosure."

The lawmaker is also in agreement on "extending campaign finance provisions to communications on the internet and to currently non-disclosing 'dark money' groups, prohibiting false information about when, where, and how people vote, and an updated pre-clearance process."

While it is clear that the West Virginia Senator's proposal isn't exactly what Democratic lawmakers are advocating, Hasen suggests Democrats should at least consider the offer. He acknowledged that while many of the line items Democrats initially proposed are not included, most of those items are far less pressing.

Hasen explained why:

"Democrats should jump at the opportunity to pass such a bill, but it is also fair to acknowledge it is far from perfect, Many of the darlings in the For the People Act are not on Manchin's list, such as felon re-enfranchisement, public financing of congressional elections, restructuring the often-deadlocked Federal Election Commission, and limiting state voter purges. Not only would the Manchin proposal continue to allow states to engage in voter purges, it also will require some form of voter identification for voting in federal elections, though in a more relaxed form than some of the strict rules some states have enacted."

Hasen also noted that voter identification could actually prove to be beneficial if implemented in a fair manner. Moving forward with Manchin's proposal could also open the door for bipartisan discussions instead of the bill just dying in the Senate.

In Leaked Tape, Manchin Says What He Really Thinks About Filibuster

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In a private call on Monday that was obtained by The Intercept, Joe Manchin (D-WV) talked to major political donors during a meeting organized by the group No Labels, which The Intercept describes as a big money operation co-founded by former Sen. Joe Lieberman "that funnels high-net-worth donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans."

Interestingly, Manchin seemed open to filibuster reform -- a private stance that contradicts his public one.

"The call included several billionaire investors and corporate executives, among them Louis Bacon, chief executive of Moore Capital Management; Kenneth D. Tuchman, founder of global outsourcing company TeleTech; and Howard Marks, the head of Oaktree Capital, one of the largest private equity firms in the country," write The Intercept's Lee Fang and Ryan Grim. "The Zoom participant log included a dial-in from Tudor Investment Corporation, the hedge fund founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Also present was a roster of heavy-hitting political influencers, including Republican consultant Ron Christie and Lieberman, who serves as a representative of No Labels and now advises corporate interests."

Manchin told the meeting's attendees that he needed help getting Republicans to vote in favor of a January 6 commission in order to strip the "far left" of their best argument against the filibuster.

With regard to Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, Manchin said, "Roy Blunt is a great, just a good friend of mine, a great guy."

"Roy is retiring. If some of you all who might be working with Roy in his next life could tell him, that'd be nice and it'd help our country," Manchin continued. "That would be very good to get him to change his vote. And we're going to have another vote on this thing. That'll give me one more shot at it."

Read the full report over at The Intercept.

Progressive Democrats Set Conditions For Infrastructure ‘Compromise’

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Democratic leaders are reportedly mulling accepting a bipartisan compromise infrastructure plan as long as the Democratic senators working with Republicans on the plan agree to another massive investment package later that would include the care giving and climate infrastructure investments.

According to Politico, they are open to passing a compromise bill with $579 billion in new investment in transportation, broadband, and water system infrastructure being shopped by a group of five Democrats and five Republicans. But they would only do so if they got assurances from those Democrats that they will later support passing more spending through the budget reconciliation process, which would not require any GOP support.

On CNN on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed a similar sentiment: "We must build back better. So if this is something that can be agreed upon, I don't know how we can possibly sell it to our caucus unless we know there is more to come."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last week, "We all know as a caucus, we will not be able to do all the things that the country needs in a totally bipartisan way. But we're not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill. We will just pursue two paths and at some point they will join."

President Joe Biden initially proposed a $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan that would invest in transportation, water systems, broadband, climate change, clean energy, child care, and caregiving infrastructure. He also asked Congress to pass a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which would provide free community college and expand access to affordable child and health care.

Republicans have objected to both plans, calling them "socialism," not really infrastructure, and too expensive. They also unanimously opposed his proposals to pay for the investment by keeping his campaign promises to raise taxes on corporations and those making $400,000 and up.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the 10 senators pushing the compromise package, said Sunday that the bipartisan infrastructure plan would contain no tax increases and would be funded mostly by repurposing unspent pandemic relief funds and charging new fees to drivers of electric cars.

Two of the most conservative members of the Senate Democratic caucus are also part of the bipartisan group: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both have refused the go-it-alone Democratic strategy in the narrowly divided chamber, pushing to work with Republicans.

Several other Democrats have spoken out against accepting a plan like theirs that does not include investment to address climate change.

"No climate, no deal," warned Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey on June 9.

With "nothing on climate change," said Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden the next day, the package would be "a complete nonstarter."

But if the conservative Democrats promised to support a subsequent bill that included vital investments that were excluded from the infrastructure package, those concerns could be assuaged.

"There would have to be clarity that we're getting the second package. Manchin and Sinema are going to have to give assurances to [Senate Budget Committee Chair] Bernie [Sanders]," an unnamed Democratic source told Politico.

For that to happen, however, at least 10 Republicans would have to agree to the infrastructure proposal. So far, only Sens. Bill Cassidy (LA), Collins, Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), and Mitt Romney (UT) have endorsed it.

If that does not come about, the Democrats could pass the entire plan without a single GOP vote using the Senate's budget reconciliation rules if all of them were to vote in favor.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.