Manchin plunges the dagger: I won't eliminate or even weaken the filibuster

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

First Sinema nukes the big anti-filibuster push, then SCOTUS nukes the employer vaccine mandate. Now Manchin delivers the coup de grace, officially ending Democratic efforts to pass a federal voting rights bill.

Tough day for Sleepy Joe.

Manchin’s said this 70-80 times before but the timing of this iteration, in the thick of a ferocious pressure campaign led by the president himself, signals true finality. It’s over.

Manchin issued his statement this afternoon just a few hours after Biden appealed to him and his colleagues personally at a meeting of Senate Democrats. Think about that. He didn’t even give Biden the courtesy of pretending to deliberate on the matter overnight. That, plus the fact that Sinema publicly went all-in on support for the filibuster this morning *before* the meeting with Biden, shows you how tired these two are of being demagogued by him and the left. Clearly they resented the pressure campaign and were done with going through the motions of respectfully hearing out their critics.

The only suspense left has to do with whether Schumer will press on and force a futile floor vote on changing the rules to end the filibuster anyway. That vote won’t be entirely comfortable for purple state Dems like Mark Kelly and Maggie Hassan who are on the ballot this fall. And it’s never a good look either for a majority leader to call a vote on a bill and lose, especially if it’s a bill he’s politically invested in.

But I think Schumer has no choice. The whole voting rights push is an elaborate bit of grandstanding for the lefty base, especially the lefty base in his home state of New York. He needs to do everything in his power to show them that he’s willing to fight for their pet causes, even in certain defeat. If that means making Kelly, Hassan, and Catherine Cortez Masto walk the plank with a floor vote, too bad for them.

Biden stepped to the mic after his meeting with Senate Dems and told the media that, frankly, he didn’t know whether Democrats would be able to get this done. Which is funny, because I know. You know too. Everyone knows except, it seems, the left-wing activists who’ve been pummeling Manchinema rhetorically as part of a fantasy that they might change their minds after the previous 70-80 refusals.

Between this and the collapse of Build Back Better, Biden’s at dire risk of losing progressives. He can and will blame Manchin for both failures, not without justification, but voters expect a president from their own party to be able to impose his will on his own caucus. Americans handed Biden total control of government and he’s set to end up 0 for 2 on his biggest priorities, with Republicans a near lock to take over the House a year from now. Disillusionment will cut the left to the bone.

There’s only one thing left for Biden to do: Uh, keep whining to Manchin and Sinema to see if they’ll change their minds. Pretty please?

Don’t gloat too much, though. Republicans are unified at the moment in defense of the glorious filibuster but that unity will last only so long. The GOP’s odds of enjoying total control of government in 2025 are improving every day, with Donald Trump no worse than 50/50 to return to the White House. Trump pressured Mitch McConnell to ditch the filibuster during his first term to no avail, but his hold over the party has increased since then. And he’s gotten more aggressive about trying to replace incumbents who are willing to say no to him with replacements who promise to always say yes. If he’s president again in three years and demands that the Republican Senate nuke the filibuster to move his agenda, there’ll be a sharp split on the right between MAGA fans and traditionalists over it. Just like there is now between progressives and Manchinema.

“If Trump is planning to run for president — which all signs point to, he is — the most important thing should be to elect more people to the Senate who share his worldview,” one Trumpworld adviser said. “I think the biggest problem Trump had in the first four years was the lack of ideological supporters in the Senate.”…

Loyalty was occasionally an issue for Trump when it came to Senate Republicans. Though he was able to confirm three Supreme Court justices and pass his signature tax cuts with slim majorities, other Trump-led initiatives — such as his attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, end the legislative filibuster or pass emergency funding for his border wall — were stymied by senators in his own party.

His anger over those perceived betrayals has persisted to this day. Out of office, Trump has continued to browbeat Senate Republicans he viewed as disobedient during his presidency.

“McConnell will refuse to go nuclear,” you might say to all that. Maybe. But my guess is that McConnell will resign in 2025 rather than serve with Trump again, knowing their relationship is broken beyond repair. Even if Mitch hangs in there, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to keep his perch as majority leader with Trump agitating against him. One of Trump’s top cronies has already taken to nudging his colleagues to replace McConnell with someone more MAGA:

It’s also possible that, even with McConnell out of the picture, the new GOP majority leader might not be able to find 50 votes to nuke the filibuster. Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse would almost all certainly refuse. But (a) Murkowski could be out of the Senate soon thanks to Trump campaigning against her in her race this fall and (b) it’s possible that Republicans will build a big enough majority in the Senate by 2025 that they’ll be able to find 50 votes even without the four I named.

So don’t get too comfortable with the filibuster. Odds are many of us will be arguing the opposite way before we know it.

Speaking of Sasse, I’ll leave you with this stemwinder in support of the filibuster from the Senate floor today. He congratulated Sinema for her courage, called for reforming the Electoral Count Act, and dismissed Biden’s demagogic speech in Georgia with this cutting line: “The president of the United States called half the country a bunch of racist bigots. He doesn’t believe that. This was a senile comment of a man who read whatever was loaded into his teleprompter.” If we end the filibuster, said Sasse, we’ll turn the Senate into the House, a body “consumed by demagogues, conspiracists, and clowns.” Fact check: Zero Pinocchios.