These days if you say Joe in political circles the initial assumption is that you are speaking of President Joe Biden. Recently many would contend that there is a more powerful Joe in DC; Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Many progressives are mistakenly directing their anger toward him. I’d like to take a look at the two Joes today concentrating on Joe Manchin.
I’ve never “officially” met either. I was in a large meeting with then Vice President Biden in 2012 but we never had a personal interaction. My impression of him from that occasion was that he is a sincere guy and a plain talker – or as plain a talker as any politician. In other words, he stuck me – much like his TV image – of being a regular guy; in street talk a “good Joe”.
I have never even been in the same room with Senator Manchin but he strikes me as being very similar. On more than one occasion I’ve heard him say, “I’m just Joe from West Virginia.” I agree on policy with Biden more often than with Manchin. Biden is a little more left of center and like me seems to get more liberal as the years pass. Manchin’s job is to represent the people of West Virginia – Biden’s, at least since 2009, the nation. Manchin often reflects the mind set of many West Virginians in his views especially when it comes to climate and energy issues.
At their core I believe both, like me, are basically traditionalists when it comes to the Senate. Biden is evolving faster. (I will expand on this below.)
Manchin held up the relief bill a bit over a difference on unemployment compensation. If you analyze the modifications Manchin required you will see that on net, they were not that significant. The delay was frustrating but in the long run did not affect the speed with which the legislation will be implemented. (I have full confidence in Nancy Pelosi’s ability to get the Senate version of the legislation passed in the House today, tomorrow at the very latest.)
The Democrats have the slimmest of Senate majorities and since it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Republicans are playing the obstruction game again (Why not? It worked for them before) Chuck Schumer must hold his caucus together to have any chance of getting anything of consequence passed.
That brings us to the filibuster. Currently any legislation that cannot be passed under the extremely limited and constrained reconciliation process effectively requires 60 (or 10 GOP) votes. That is not happening. Manchin is one of what was once three and is now two Democratic Senators who are currently against changing the rule. The rule can be changed at any time by a majority vote but that means all 50 senators caucusing with the Democrats must be on board. He is seen as the key to changing the rule and I agree with that analysis. Over this past weekend he modified his stance a bit opening up the possibility that in the not that distant future, after other avenues had been explored, he would be open to a rule change.
Here is the political bottom line: The Democratic Senate majority is so razor thin that this is certainly not the time for a purity test! If progressive want to “marginalize” Manchin what they need to do is go out and flip, then hold, several seats in 2022. If Schumer had even 52 or 53 in his caucus he could tolerate a defection of two. Also, he could give a senator who felt they needed it to win back home a pass. We saw Mitch McConnell do that several times in recent years. (Do you really think any of Susan Collins’ vote caught McConnell by surprise?)
We have 50 states in the union and no two are exactly alike. Senators get elected by their home state’s voters. The Democratic Party is a big tent political party. America is a huge country with about 320 million people and only two political parties of consequence. It would be an unreasonable expectation to assume all members of a political party that large would think with one mind.
Let’s consider the alternative for a moment. If we didn’t have Joe Manchin as a Senator from West Virginia the alternative certainly wouldn’t be more liberal; they would be a far right winger. Do you think Schumer could persuade them? If you do you are either a fool, haven’t been paying attention or both. You are not going to be able to elect and reelect a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren from places like West Virginia.
For the moment we need to be thankful for the Senate majority we have, hope we don’t lose it to defection (not likely unless we act like fools), death or not showing up in 2022. As progressive voters our job is to go out and do the necessary work to expand the majority in 2022 regardless of what happens with the filibuster. Work with both Joes, including the other one; not against them. Neither is the enemy.
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