Where Do We Go From Here?

Over the weekend West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin made his clearest statement yet that he will not go along with eliminating or amending the filibuster. Furthermore, and in my mind more disturbing, he indicated that he was not in favor of strictly partisan legislation. Juxtapose those stances with Mitch McConnell openly playing obstructer in chief and you have what cricket fans would call a sticky wicket; in American political parlance – a mess.
All the above leaves us with a few questions to ponder. Let’s take a look at a few.

What do Democrats do about Manchin? The short answer is nothing rash! Manchin’s seat is not up until the 2024 election which is centuries in American politics. Good, bad or indifferent we are stuck with him until then. If he were to leave office earlier, he would be replaced by West Virginia’s Governor until the next statewide election. The overwhelming odds are that his immediate replacement would be a Republican. Nominal Democrat that he may be I don’t think there is another Democrat that can win a statewide Senate race in West Virginia today or in the near future. The bottom line is that Manchin is the best we can get in that seat now or in the near future.

What good is he as a Democrat? The short answer is a lot! With 50 in the Democratic caucus Chuck Schumer sets the Senate agenda and more importantly Democrats chair every Senate committee and set their agendas. That may be a little too inside baseball and sausage making for many but it is very important. McConnell can’t simply refuse to bring issues to the floor for a vote or bury them in committee.

What about 2024? I have endorsed Manchin in the past because he was the best case scenario for that seat from a progressive perspective. Unless he changes his act between now and the 2024 cycle don’t expect me to do that again. There is a huge difference between not working against a candidate and endorsing them. I am not an expert on West Virginia politics but I don’t know of anyone with a progressive philosophy capable of winning that seat in 2024 if they were given the Democratic line. The way things look right now if Manchin wants to run again in 2024 (which is far from a foregone conclusion) I’d say we just let him be. No endorsement or major financial backing, but certainly no campaign against him.

Why not just let him go over to the Republicans if he is going to act like one? See above. Until and unless the margin in the Senate tips over 50-50 in the Democrats’ favor, he keeps us in control of that chamber. Even if we can’t get Biden’s agenda through, we can at least make Republican Senators take votes harmful to their constituents which is ammunition to be used against them in future campaigns.

What about Biden’s agenda? Here is one of the speculation parts of today’s article and the most interesting part. We know there are not 10 patriotic Americans in the Republican caucus; they proved it with their votes on the 1/6 commission. However, there are a small handful. Don’t be fooled by Ben Sasse. He is positioning himself for a 2024 presidential run as the anti-Trump Republican. His votes have nothing to do with conscience or patriotism. Manchin has left the door open to supporting bi-partisan legislation (and he has voted that way to date). Would say Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney supporting a piece of legislation be sufficiently bi-partisan to placate Manchin? It would certainly provide him with political cover while still sticking to his stance.

Here is a wilder political scenario. I don’t see a Republican Senator switching parties; however, I have always thought there is a very outside chance that Murkowski could become an independent and decide to caucus with the Democrats. She would be far from a solid vote for Schumer but it would give him a little room to maneuver giving somebody like a Manchin a pass on a specific vote. I don’t see Susan Collins, Romney or Pat Toomey (the other sometimes persuadable Republicans) switching parties but Murkowski has won in Alaska without the GOP and could again. (Romney can win in Utah without GOP backing but he is a real conservative and just wouldn’t fit in the Democratic caucus. He is true to himself and the Republican caucus is the place he belongs.)

What is the real solution? This one is simple but will be difficult to execute especially if the Democrats don’t have a lot of accomplishments to put before the voters in 2022 – increase the Democratic caucus number. I’ll save another of my periodic (and at this point premature) looks ahead at the 2022 Senate elections for another day but there is a definite opportunity for the Democrats to pick up a few seats. The jury is still somewhat out on Schumer’s leadership ability but think how much easier his job would be with a margin for error.

I think Joe Manchin is basically a good man with noble intentions. I also think American democracy is under attack from within by the Republican Party. Machin is being Pollyannaish and naïve and at the moment the Democrats are better off with than without him. This is a time for progressives to be pragmatic not idealistic as bitter of a pill that may be to swallow.

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