It’s exhausting trying to parse where this guy stands on the filibuster day to day because he’s gotten good at not giving straight answers about it. Ten days ago he was asked whether he might use reconciliation, a budgetary process, to pass a non-budgetary bill like H.R. 1, the House’s election-reform package. That would be a radical departure from Senate procedure, essentially swallowing the filibuster without abolishing it by allowing the majority to pass any type of bill it wants via a simple majority. Manchin … didn’t give a straight answer.
A day later he was asked whether he’d consider using reconciliation to pass Biden’s infrastructure mega-bill, which Republicans are all but certain to oppose. No way, Manchin said. Republicans definitely need to be given a chance to compromise on legislation like that. But what happens if they *are* given that chance and they reject all offers, and then Dems decide to proceed via reconciliation anyway? Would Manchin support passing the bill in those circumstances? No clear answer.
Today he was asked about another possibility that’s been percolating among progressives and was recently championed by Stacey Abrams. What if Dems carved out an exception to the filibuster for certain types of legislation, the same way exceptions have been carved out for presidential nominations? In other words, most bills brought to the floor of the Senate would still require 60 votes for passage but not bills that deal with voting rights like H.R. 1. They get a special 50-vote rule because they’re “fundamental to our democracy” or whatever. Would Manchin be down for that?
Doesn’t sound like it, based on his new comments today. Although — surprise — he’s not definitive, so we don’t really have a straight answer here either.
Manchin … rejected calls by proponents of gutting filibuster rules to require 41 senators to be present to sustain a filibuster.
“No, I’m still at 60. OK?” Manchin said, noting these “are all interesting” ideas.
Some Democrats have called for specific carve-outs from filibuster rules — such as voting rights or civil rights legislation – to allow those measures to be advanced by a simple majority in the Senate. But Manchin is not in favor of that, either, arguing that minority rights must be maintained.
“That’s a little bit like being pregnant — maybe,” he said of such an idea, an apparent reference to the saying “you can’t be half-pregnant.”
He didn’t rule it out, note. But if he’s serious that subject-matter carve-outs from the filibuster are a nonstarter then H.R. 1 is dead on arrival in the Senate. Annnnd maybe that’s how Manchin wants it?
Per a release from @JeffMerkley‘s office, every single Democratic senator is already co-sponsoring the For The People Act except one: Joe Manchin.
Manchin did co-sponsor it in the last Congress.
— Kevin Robillard (@Robillard) March 17, 2021
He was asked about the bill yesterday and played dumb, another bad sign for lefties:
Q: Do you support HR 1 or S1 the voting rights legislation?
Manchin: I haven’t … seriously … I haven’t seen it.
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) March 16, 2021
It’s possible, I suppose, that he’d support passing H.R. 1 via reconciliation instead of via tweaking the filibuster but that would be an even more radical procedural shift. And it’d amount to a distinction without a difference. If Dems can pass anything they want with 50 votes via reconciliation, even if the subject matter doesn’t relate to the budget, then the filibuster won’t matter anymore. It’ll have been eliminated by the back door, left on the books but useless as a tool to obstruct the majority.
Maybe he’s keeping his powder dry to see what happens on infrastructure? If he can find 10 Republicans who want to deal in earnest, that might convince him that Democrats are being ruthless in wanting to ram through their agenda without compromise. If instead he finds that GOPers are immediately and implacably opposed to any bill that raises taxes to pay for new infrastructure projects, that might tell him that Republicans plan to be ruthless in obstructing and renew his interest in filibuster reform.
The most interesting reform kicking around right now is the idea of requiring 41 members of the minority to be present in the chamber at any one time in order to keep the filibuster going. As noted in the excerpt, Manchin seems to have ruled that out. He likes the “talking filibuster” instead, as does Joe Biden, but that comes with potential problems. An obvious one is that so long as senators from the minority are allowed to “tag-team” in holding the floor, they could coordinate to talk for weeks to slow down business. Marco Rubio could speak for eight hours, say, then yield the floor to Ted Cruz for another eight, then Cruz yields to Tom Cotton for eight, yadda yadda, with most of the caucus rotating in over time. The Senate would screech to a halt. Another problem is that the talking filibuster would require Democrats to be present in the chamber too for long stretches — or else:
During a talking filibuster, members of the majority would be forced to stay close to the floor, even at odd hours of the night, because if the majority’s numbers were to drop low enough, the minority could request a quorum call to determine whether there are enough senators present to continue with the chamber’s business. If no quorum is mustered, the minority doesn’t have to keep talking, and they can catch up on their rest.
With today’s 50-member Democratic majority, “if one Democratic senator had to leave for any reason, the Republicans could call for a quorum, disappear, and Senate business would conclude for the day,” Ryan said.
If Schumer and the Dems are going to change the filibuster rules to require “talking filibusters,” they’ll need to change the rules about adjourning due to a lack of a quorum too.
My guess is that *if* Manchin ends up reconsidering, he’ll reconsider about requiring 41 senators in the minority to be present in order to maintain a filibuster. The GOP could coordinate to stretch the process out in that cirucmstance too by giving a different handful of members a reprieve each day to keep them fresh, but every member of the minority would be in the chamber for long lengths of time, potentially for many days on end. Whatever Manchin decides, he’s going to have to give the left some hope of getting H.R. 1 or a stripped-down version of it passed and that starts with filibuster reform. If he allows the GOP to bottle up progressives’ big voting-rights initiative indefinitely, the party will be rent.