Perhaps Senate progressives and the White House should have started with this tactic before even drawing up their reconciliation spend-o-rama. It might have saved them a lot of time and embarrassment. After months of threats and demonization failed to move Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on the reconciliation effort, the Washington Post reports that Senate Democrats are down to this one last strategy:
Fellow Democrats are hoping their engagement can stave off a total revolt from Manchin and from Sinema, who has been less publicly critical in recent weeks but has not endorsed the House bill. Many have engaged in a last-ditch private lobbying campaign, while others — including Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — have sought to build public pressure on the moderates. …
Numerous other Democratic senators said this month that they are talking a similar approach to Manchin and Sinema — sharing data and briefing materials, offering to answer questions and otherwise taking a careful approach to lobbying their colleagues. Nearly all said that their interactions with the two senators have been polite, respectful and substantive, but that they rarely end in any firm commitments.
But in a 50-50 Senate, where any one member can unilaterally impose their will, fellow senators said they have little choice but to use a soft touch and hope for the best.
All of this begins with the same hubris I mentioned in my earlier post. Progressives and Joe Biden viewed their narrow wins as some sort of mandate for radical change, even though Democrats actually lost seats in the House. Biden campaigned as a centrist and super-competent insider, and immediately shifted to his ego-driven desire to be remembered as FDR and LBJ combined.
In their maximalist hubris, progressives decided that everyone else should just bow to their leadership and agenda. They didn’t think to consider that Manchin represents a very red state, or that Sinema represents a Republican-leaning constituency. Nor, apparently, did it occur to them to begin negotiating with either one of them to craft a bill that could get 50 votes in reconciliation. Instead, led by Biden and Bernie Sanders, they dropped the $3.5 trillion monstrosity and dared anyone to vote against it — and are now surprised that this strategy failed.
When that became obvious, progressives tried demonizing and threatening both of those must-have votes. Their orgs began looking for primary challengers for both, and ended up getting Raul Grijalva to bite in Arizona. (The idea of a progressive challenger to Manchin in West Virginia qualifies as satire of progressive cluelessness.) Their activists and even House progressive Cori Bush called Manchin a racist for his opposition; LGBTQ activists publicly disowned bisexual Sinema, who had earlier been one of their icons. Activists even stalked Sinema into public toilets in order to harass her into changing her vote.
When bullying doesn’t work, what’s left? Impotence, mainly, but apparently progressives are giving etiquette and respect the ol’ college try now. Tim Kaine’s now saying I told you so to his more maximalist colleagues and activist allies:
Even some sympathetic Democrats believe the overt pressure campaigns are unlikely to succeed, and they are counseling anxious activists to instead have some faith in the inside game.
“Most senators, you know, we’re stubborn,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has lobbied colleagues for prekindergarten and child care programs. “Too much public pressure causes us to [go] the other way. The public’s entitled to do it, but I think what really matters the most is the internal discussions we have.”
It might be too late, and not just for Manchin and Sinema. They aren’t the only Senate Democrats to fail to register support for the progressive spend-o-rama, after all. Progressives may not even have 45 solid votes for Biden’s big-spending plan, especially not after the electoral disasters Democrats suffered last month and inflation still running away. Manchin and Sinema won’t soon forget their public treatment at the hands of their supposed allies, and perhaps a few others now see a good reason to remind progressives of their true position in Washington DC.