Those of us who have followed the career of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., knew that, eventually, his sometimes reasonable and other times obstinate centrism would create a problem for the Biden administration.
It was only a question of when and what.
We got both last weekend when Manchin, in an op-ed published in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, said he would vote against the For the People Act, which seeks to guarantee voting rights, rid political campaigns of dark money and override efforts in some states to suppress voter eligibility and turnout.
I’ve been inundated with letters and op-eds from people across West Virginia — and the country — who are furious with Manchin’s reasoning.
It’s important to understand that Manchin is the last Democrat in West Virginia’s congressional delegation, and the state he represents gave Donald Trump nearly 70% of its votes in 2016 and 2020. The fantasy in some national news outlets that he could be defeated from the left is, for better or worse, laughable to anyone who has spent time in this state.
If Manchin hadn’t been reelected in 2018, the American Rescue Plan never would have passed. Although they now tout their support, every member of West Virginia’s congressional delegation other than Manchin voted against it. In a 50-50 Senate, Manchin’s crucial vote ensured hundreds of millions of dollars would go to West Virginia communities for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the state.
And yet, Manchin’s position on the For the People Act makes its possible defeat that much more agonizing. If Manchin weren’t in office, the bill would have no hope at all. It stings a lot more when a bill that would do so much good at a critical time has an actual chance of passing but still can’t get through.
As for the criticism aimed at Manchin I’ve received in op-eds and letters, along with what I’ve seen from columnists at news outlets large and small across the nation, I get it. As much as I respect him, I don’t think Manchin made a good argument for why he won’t support this bill.
The notion that he can’t vote for it because it doesn’t have any backing from Senate Republicans is so bizarre that it’s hard to take seriously.
First off, if it’s good legislation — and Manchin seems to think on some level it is — then you back it.
Second, it was a former Republican president who sold the lie of election fraud and turned his rabid followers loose on the U.S. Capitol. Some GOP congressional members still won’t divorce themselves from that lie. Building upon that falsehood, it’s the GOP that is enacting these voter suppression laws across the country. Expecting Republican senators to act in good faith at this point is beyond naive idealism; it’s willful self-delusion. Manchin is still somehow surprised when his olive branches across the aisle are met with the business end of a machete.
The bill does have bipartisan support from the people who matter the most — the voters. Polling shows a majority of Americans, and West Virginians, Democrat and Republican, support the bill. Manchin should know how frustrating this feels for them. He had broad backing from the voters when he and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., introduced a bill for expanded firearm background checks after the massacre at Sandy Hook. The people were with him, but Senate Republicans, aside from Toomey, were not.
Manchin’s other major problem with the For the People Act is that it would require an effort to eliminate or somehow amend the filibuster, because getting 60 votes in a split Senate would be impossible. Manchin continually refers to the filibuster as something the Founding Fathers designed. I don’t know if he genuinely believes this and is simply incorrect, is intentionally trying to mislead people or is referencing that the idea of the filibuster was first discussed in the country’s infancy.
Whatever the case, Manchin needs to be clearer here. The filibuster is not in the Constitution. It’s a quirk of Senate rules that was discussed as a theory around the late 1780s and only put into practice much later. That theory came from Aaron Burr, the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. You could make an argument that the Founders believed more in the formal practice of shooting one another over social grievances than in the filibuster.
It’s also not as sacred as Manchin makes it out to be. Filibuster rules have been tinkered with throughout U.S. history and, in more recent years, Senate Minority Leader and avowed fan of dark money Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has abused the filibuster to grind government to a halt.
Yes, elimination of the filibuster could lead to a sea change every time the majority shifts in the Senate. But the filibuster rules could be amended so that a smaller majority is needed to end one — it’s happened before. It’s true, the possible backfiring of any fiddling with the filibuster has to be considered.
You know what else has to be considered? The rights of American citizens to vote in elections where they aren’t unfairly purged from the rolls, unable to get to the polls or turned away because of draconian state election rules enacted so a Republican presidential candidate will never lose Georgia again.
Manchin grasps the gravity of the situation and, deep down, he knows what’s right. His legacy, and the fate of the country, might hinge on him being able to admit that, in this instance, his initial conclusion was wrong.
My home state of West Virginia, to which I returned to pay back for the start I was given here in news broadcasting, is now, to me, a place of profound sadness.
Mine was a progressive state when I left in the 1960s to work as a reporter for CBS News in New York City. We had helped elect John F. Kennedy as president and our key union — the United Mine Workers of America — was truly aspirational for the industry that employed so many fine people who were proud of their state and its reputation for keeping America’s lights on and democracy thriving.
Then, Republican Ronald Reagan wrecked the UMWA and most other unions. He pulled the first threads that helped create the hateful, anti-democratic forces that are trying to undermine us Democrats in West Virginia and throughout the nation.
It is in that bad atmosphere that I find myself continuing to fight to be of some good here — to navigate treacherous political waters that are roiled by none other than Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
I was naïve, on my return, to think Manchin, a Democrat and successor to master of the U.S. Senate, Robert C. Byrd, would, somehow, help turn West Virginia blue again. It was one of the most reliably Democratic states of the second half of the 20th century. But Democrats began to lose their grip on the state during the 1990s, at least at the presidential level.
Now, with a Democrat once again in the Oval Office, Manchin has a chance to support President Joe Biden’s progressive agenda, which polls show is highly favored by voters here. The Mountain State and Manchin could be viewed nationally as trending Democrat one more time. But, to my consternation, he seems bent on sabotaging the president’s plan by vowing not to abandon the legislative filibuster, a vow that imperils much of the Biden program. What is more, he has said in no uncertain terms that he would not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression.
Democrats are likely gearing up for a full push to try to sway Manchin to change his mind. Ordinarily, that would be enough to make almost any Democrat politician in the country squirm. But not in West Virginia.
Black, Hispanic, college-educated, young, urban and professional voters all represent a much smaller share of the electorate in the state than just about anywhere else.
White voters without a four-year college degree, Donald Trump’s demographic base, made up 69% of voters here in 2020 (the highest percentage of any state in the country) according to census data. Trump won West Virginia with nearly 69% of the vote in 2020, more than in every state but Wyoming. With those numbers, it is difficult to understand how Democrat Joe Manchin wins here.
It is far too soon to evaluate Manchin’s chances in 2024, but early indications are not promising, despite his reputation as being a DINO — Democrat in name only.
Manchin is the only Democrat in West Virginia’s congressional delegation. If he loses three years from now, his loss will be counted as the end of an era.
Wednesday was a grim reminder that COVID-19 is still a problem in West Virginia, after the Department of Health and Human Resources announced 24 additional virus deaths since Tuesday.
It wasn’t clear Wednesday if those deaths all occurred within one day or if there was a backlog of deaths that had not been officially reported, which has sometimes been the case. Regardless, it’s a solemn indicator that, while cases continue to slowly drop and the threat seems to be shrinking, West Virginia has yet to cross the finish line in this nightmare marathon.
There’s been a lot of parsing over Gov. Jim Justice’s new “Do it for Babydog” campaign, in which he’s made his bulldog the mascot of the effort to increase vaccinations. Along with that is what amounts to a raffle to incentivize West Virginians to get the shot — that includes a $1.6 million cash prize, another cash prize worth more than $500,000 and other prizes, such as firearms, trucks and academic scholarships.
Is using governor’s dog is appropriate? Is offering prizes to drive up the vaccination rate the right thing to do? Will it even work? Is it OK to try and have fun with this?
But seeing 24 deaths reported a day after only one death was listed drives home that this is about saving lives. If you’re only getting vaccinated because you might win something, fine. If you’re totally against the idea of being bribed to get vaccinated, that’s fine, too. You can always decline or donate the prize, should you happen to win.
It can be hard to cut through everything around this pandemic, especially after living altered lives for more than a year and going into the second summer with this still with us. But 24 deaths should do it.
You don’t have to do it for Babydog. You can do it for the 41-year-old man from Lincoln County who was on Wednesday’s roll of the deceased. You don’t have do it because the governor is telling you to. Do it for the four women from Berkeley County who died from COVID-19 on Wednesday’s list.
If there’s one thing Justice has been right about this entire time, it’s that these are not numbers; they’re people. It can be hard for someone unaffected by the pandemic to see that. They’re presented as numbers. They’re on a list. They’re how public officials and West Virginians have viewed whether the pandemic is spiking or ebbing. It only takes one tragic case to completely and tragically change that perspective.
So do it for someone you don’t want to see on that list.