AOC warns: Swing-state Senate Dems should stop hiding behind Manchin and state their position on the filibuster

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

What a gift she is to the GOP. Last year she helped to mainstream the “defund the police” sloganeering that caused Democrats to underperform in swing races on Election Day, nearly costing them the House and Senate.

Now she wants progressives to start paying attention to the members of her party in the Senate not named “Joe Manchin” who are similarly lukewarm about ending the filibuster but seldom asked about it. The current arrangement is convenient for Schumer and for those senators, some of whom come from swing states and will end up in trouble no matter what position they take. If Mark Kelly, say, announces that he’s for ending the filibuster, that’s turnout fuel for Arizona Republicans in the general election next year. If he says he’s against it, that’s turnout fuel for progressives in a primary.

Kelly and others have been happy to shelter behind the Manchin heat shield to this point and the rest of the party has been happy to look the other way, knowing that their chances of moving a liberal agenda depend upon the likes of Kelly getting reelected. AOC could cut them a break on grounds that it doesn’t matter what Kelly or anyone else thinks about the filibuster until Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are dislodged from their support from it. Get Manchin to cave and suddenly there’ll be a ton of pressure on Kelly et al. to cave too lest they be seen as more Republican-friendly than a senator from West Virginia.

But Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t want to let them hide. Mitch McConnell should send her a fruit basket.

“It’s something of a symbiotic relationship,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “There are certainly more senators with reservations about the filibuster that are giving Manchin steam to stay firm. But I have also heard from colleagues that none of those other senators want to play Manchin’s role.”

Ocasio-Cortez continued that, if Manchin or Sinema folded, she believed those other senators would come around to eliminating the filibuster as well. “That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be pressed for their position and offer clarity to their constituents, though,” she said of the senators letting Manchin do the talking. “People deserve to know with clarity where their elected representation stands on the filibuster.”

A Democratic aide told The Daily Beast in a May story on Manchin that a lot of members are “happy Joe Manchin is the tip of the spear, getting shot at every day. Seven or eight of them stand behind him.”

In addition to Kelly, Maggie Hassan and Catherine Cortez Masto are also up next year in states where Trump was competitive. Not coincidentally, they’ve also maintained strategic ambiguity about the filibuster. That’s a win/win for them and Manchin: Because his home state is overwhelmingly Republican, he actually benefits from his opposition to the filibuster. Progressives in West Virginia who hate him understand that no other Democrat in the state could win his seat so they have no choice but to eschew primarying him. With Manchin a firm no on ending the filibuster, Kelly, Hassan, and Cortez Masto are irrelevant and can get away with dodging.

Unless a progressive star like AOC refuses to let them.

She’s putting heat on Biden and Schumer too even though they’re hostages of Manchin every bit as much as Ocasio-Cortez’s agenda is:

Senate Dems can conceivably go it alone on infrastructure without ending the filibuster since that’s a spending bill and therefore could be passed via budget reconciliation. But both Manchin and the Senate parliamentarian have caused headaches for Democrats on that front in the past week. Even if Schumer found a way to pull it off procedurally (i.e. using next year’s budget to invoke reconciliation), Manchin has said he doesn’t want to pass an infrastructure bill without Republican votes.

I keep wondering if his recalcitrance is going to end up boomeranging on Schumer, yet another Democrat who’s up for reelection next year. Schumer’s probably safe in New York no matter what, but if Biden’s agenda stalls out because he can’t rouse his caucus to end the filibuster, he’s in line to be a scapegoat for progressive upset. Which maybe means a primary challenge from AOC or some AOC-backed left-wing insurgent.

It’d be one thing for Dems to watch her muscle Kelly et al. if her progressive wing of the primary were winning elections, making the case that the path to victory runs to the left, but the opposite is true. Moderate Democrats are beating progressives in primaries just like Biden beat Bernie Sanders handily last year. (Of course, Biden’s governed more like Sanders than anyone expected so Ocasio-Cortez can claim a moral victory there.) That being so, she’s virtually all downside and no upside for Democrats, someone capable of causing headaches for electable centrists like Kelly but not capable of steering less electable progs to wins over centrist Dems or Republicans. No wonder Pelosi seems to hate her.