Joe Manchin stands in the way of more than ending the filibuster. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. (Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner)

Biden’s hope for ambitious agenda is fading fast

Naomi Lim June 10, 11:00 PM June 10, 11:00 PM

President Joe Biden’s pretense as a deal-maker is about to be tested by Democrats as a compromise between the party’s rival factions appears to be as elusive as bipartisan agreements.

But with centrist Sen. Joe Manchin and filibuster rules stymieing liberal priorities, the only way for Biden to notch accomplishments before the 2022 midterm elections may be to disappoint the Left and convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to meet Republicans in the middle.

Democrats need to calculate the political price of “not fighting to the end” on top issues. And that includes the idea of rolling back Senate filibuster rules so the party can expand voter access with a simple majority, Donnie Fowler told the Washington Examiner.

“As a procedural issue that most voters don’t have a lot of knowledge about, the political price to be paid for the filibuster probably is a very low price as long as the White House and the Democrats in Congress can pass policies that a lot of voters want to see,” he said.

The path forward may be to tinker with the filibuster rather than nixing it altogether, Fowler added. He went on to say the other option is to tag Republicans as obstructionists before the 2022 election cycle.

If Democrats are to have any hope of holding on to power, “you need the middle and you need the base,” he said.

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, reiterated this month that he is against eliminating the filibuster and S. 1, the sweeping Senate counterpart to H.R. 1, billed by Pelosi as the For the People Act. Democrats are clamoring for the electoral reforms to be in place by 2022, and Schumer is pushing to bring S. 1 to the floor in June after the House cleared H.R. 1 in March.

Yet, in the same opinion piece, Manchin underscored his support of narrower H.R. 4, or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. That measure would reintroduce a requirement that states with a history of restricting ballot access first obtain Justice Department approval before changing their laws.

In response, Pelosi has insisted H.R. 4 is no substitute for H.R. 1. That is because many Democrats believe H.R. 1 is the best antidote to election security legislation signed by Republican governors in some states, such as Florida and Georgia, after former President Donald Trump’s complaints concerning the 2020 contest. H.R. 1’s provisions, for instance, mandate nationwide mail-in voting, same-day voter registration, and at least two weeks of early voting.

But even H.R. 4 faces obstacles in attracting a filibuster-proof 60 votes to end debate in the evenly divided Senate. Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the only Republican to endorse the proposal so far.

Recognizing the challenge, the New York Times editorial board suggested this month that Democrats rally around more modest electoral reforms. The board ripped S. 1 as “poorly matched to the moment” because it “attempts to accomplish more than is currently feasible.”

However, some liberal Democrats, such as Aggressive Progressive podcast host Christopher Hahn, are convinced the political optics of clinging on to the filibuster and disproportionately affecting minority voters “from exercising their rights” bolsters their position.

“Manchin will have to choose voting rights or an archaic Senate procedure,” he said. “I believe he will choose voting rights.”

Other liberal Democrats have been emboldened by Manchin’s stubbornness to follow Biden’s lead and have publicly called out the senator from the sparsely populated, mostly white state. Though the White House clumsily walked back Biden’s comments, New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman latched on to them and slammed Manchin as the “new Mitch McConnell,” a reference to the Senate Republican leader’s opposition to former President Barack Obama.

Manchin’s stance against the filibuster also threatens Biden’s infrastructure objectives.

Democrats can rely on the streamlined budget process known as reconciliation to ram a trillion-dollar package through Congress without Republicans. Yet, Manchin has repeated his preference for regular order and a bipartisan deal.

But with Trump winning West Virginia last year by a whopping 39 percentage points, Manchin has little incentive to concede.

“For Manchin, I think getting criticized by a Democratic president might actually make him more popular,” University of Pennsylvania historian Brian Rosenwald said.

Democrats would be well advised to use “a mix of pressure and negotiations, a carrot-and-stick method,” according to Rosenwald.

“As a member of a party, you’re invested in that party’s success and the president’s success,” he said. “They usually extract something for it.”

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