Maybe Joe Manchin really is serious about the filibuster — and more serious than we think. Manchin talked about protecting the filibuster before the election, promising not to let Democrats do “crazy stuff” if they won control of the Senate. That was a selling card in the Georgia runoffs, helping to make voters there more comfortable with Democrats rather than with “stop the steal”-obsessed Republicans. But many wondered just how firmly Manchin would stick to the principle of regular order when push came to shove on Capitol Hill.
Last night, Manchin told CNN that it was when push came to shove literally on Capitol Hill that he realized how important the filibuster and regular order really are:
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin tells CNN that the deadly attack on Jan. 6 at the US Capitol "changed" him, saying, "you can't have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other." pic.twitter.com/qlQJCv8wTo
— The Situation Room (@CNNSitRoom) April 8, 2021
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): January sixth changed man, I was very clear with everybody. I never thought in my life, I never read in history books to where our form of government had been attacked at our seat of government, which is Washington D.C. at our Capitol by our own people. Now, the British did it, but not Americans. So, something told me, wait a minute, pause, hit the pause button, something’s wrong. You can’t have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other.
This sounds a bit like an evolution on Manchin’s part, not in a bad way but in a kind of time-perspective shift. Manchin has always talked up the filibuster, but even after January 6th, he would at times sound slippery on it. He might have been feeling his way through the implications of his insight after the Capitol riot, hoping to see some signs that his caucus was prepared to share his vision. Three months later, it’s clear that they intend to pursue the same kind of brute-force majoritarianism that they used in 2009-10 and that Republicans used in 2017-18, eroding the institutional integrity of both chambers along the way.
If that’s the case, Manchin appears to have more firmly positioned himself against it. He did warn yesterday in his Washington Post op-ed that he would apply this commitment to regular order on both parties, accusing Republicans of being the Party of No:
Legislating was never supposed to be easy. It is hard work to address the needs of both rural and urban communities in a single piece of legislation, but it is the work we were elected to do.
I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate. How is that good for the future of this nation? Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues. Republicans, however, have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats.
To do that, though, Democrats and the White House have to give Republicans the opportunity to collaborate on legislation. They’ve been locked out of that process ever since Biden took office, starting notoriously with Biden’s snub of Susan Collins and Chuck Schumer’s weird attack on her for attempting to engage on COVID-19 relief/stimulus. This is what regular order allows, with committees drafting the legislation in tandem — especially in the Senate, where the committees are split equally between Democrats and Republicans. That would give Republicans some investment in the bills eventually produced and cut down on performative stunts in Congress, which now comprise the vast majority of floor actions these days.
Of course, the best way for Manchin to force Democrats to work with Republicans would be to cross the aisle and put Mitch McConnell back in charge in the Senate. This doesn’t sound like Manchin’s at all inclined toward that solution, though:
MANCHIN: Whenever [Biden] calls me, he calls me and we have a good conversation. We’ve had a good friendship and relationship for a long time. We understand each other. I’m so pleased to understand that we have a person sitting in the White House that understands legislating, understands how Congress works and should work. And understands that basically, we’ve got to represent the people that we represent. And I’m representing West Virginia to the best of my ability, and I’m trying to speak for my state.
FOX: Some of your colleagues joke that you’re the president of the Senate now. I’ve heard them in the hallways remark that to you. Do you like this role? How does it feel?
MANCHIN: Let me tell you about it. Now, I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. I’ve watched people that had power and abused it. I’ve watched people that sought power and destroyed themselves. And I’ve watched people that had a moment of time to make a difference and change things and used it. I would like to be that third.
In some ways, the 50/50 split serves Manchin best. Neither party can play with brute-force majoritarianism in that arrangement, not without his approval. Manchin gets to work with a friendly White House, but still ends up being The Decider. McConnell probably can’t offer anything that will serve Manchin better.
Again, let’s see whether Manchin sticks to his guns. But this at least sounds as though he’s getting firmer on forcing Congress to get back to governing rather than posing.