Having apparently given up on the Build Back Better bill because of strong opposition from Sen. Manchin over concerns about spending and inflation, Democrats are pivoting to a focus on passing a voting rights bill instead. Of course, there’s a problem there as well and her name is Krysten Sinema.
As you probably remember, the reason Democrats were convinced they could pass a massive “social infrastructure” bill is because BBB would be passed via reconciliation which only required Democrats to come up with 50 votes. But the voting bills Democrats want to pass aren’t reconciliation bills which means they would need enough votes to overcome a filibuster (or a compromise agreeable to a number of Republicans).
Of course, some Democrats are happy to get rid of the filibuster. The problem is that Sen. Sinema isn’t one of them. So Democrats have given up on trying to convince her to end the filibuster completely and are instead trying to pitch some kind of one-time workaround just for this voting bill. Instead of the nuclear option, this would be the tactical nuclear option:
Manchin and Sinema both attended a meeting on Wednesday afternoon with Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine), centrists who are advocating for a workaround to the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. Democrats also discussed how to pass elections reform bills during a party lunch on Tuesday, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer met with Manchin, King, Kaine and Tester on Wednesday morning.
Democrats are no longer trying to scrap the filibuster altogether given Manchin’s and Sinema’s opposition. Instead, they’re pivoting to an attempt to sway the two moderates on a reform that could enable anti-gerrymandering and a restoration of the Voting Rights Act to evade the 60-vote requirement. The leading options include installing the talking filibuster, forcing the minority to hold the floor and continuously put up at least 41 votes to block legislation or an exception specific to the issue of elections and voting.
That’s the pitch, but it sounds like Sinema isn’t buying it:
In a statement to POLITICO, a spokesperson said that Sinema “continues to support the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, to protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions, and further erode Americans’ confidence in our government.”
At this point I’m not sure Democrats really care what they pass. They want to pass something so they can tell voters back home that the Democratic majority is really paying off for the country. But they keep running into the same problem: They don’t have the votes. You’d think that would have been obvious after they lost seats in the House and barely achieved control of the Senate last year, but it never seemed to sink in. So here were are a year later and Democrats are still stunned they can’t pass their wish list over the objections of roughly half of Congress.
Through all of this, Sen. Sinema has been saying that there is a better, if harder, way to do things. But the majority of Democrats just keep promising their base the moon despite the fact that the odds of delivering it were slim from the start. Here’s how Sen. Sinema put it during an interview earlier this month.
“I would never promise something to the American people that I can’t deliver and I think it’s not responsible for elected leaders to do that,” she said.
“Being honest is the most appropriate way to engage in any interaction, whether it’s in a political setting or in a personal setting, but I also believe that when elected leaders on either side of the political aisle promise things that cannot be delivered it actually exacerbates the political problems we face in our country,” she said, “and people become more angry or even apathetic and want to turn away from the political process, because they feel like no one is telling them the truth or being honest with them.”
I’m not sure how this dynamic can change at this point. The bulk of the Democratic Party seems to want more fighting spirit and less situational-awareness. Joe Manchin refuses to huddle in the progressive bubble where, for instance, inflation doesn’t matter and the party hates him for it. Sen. Sinema refuses to wipe out the filibuster shortly before the GOP has a real chance at reclaiming the chamber and the party hates her for it.
Maybe next year some of these Democrats whining about Sens. Manchin and Sinema will realize they weren’t the enemy. In fact, they were trying to save the party from its own worst instincts. But by that point it will be too late to matter.