Members of the national and state Poor People’s Campaign want a lot from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Last month, the groups conducted a motorcade protest that started in Boone County and made its way to Manchin’s Charleston office.
The campaign (its full name is the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival) has been trying to bend Manchin’s ear ever since the conservative Democrat became a critical vote in a 50-50 U.S. Senate, where the Democrats hold the tie-breaker advantage with Vice President Kamala Harris.
The group, led by co-chairs the Rev. William Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, isn’t shy about lobbying West Virginia’s lone congressional Democrat. Their “Mass Moral Motorcade on Manchin” called for the senator to support a national $15 minimum wage, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act and the elimination of the senate filibuster that allows the minority party to stymie major legislation, among other issues.
Manchin was key in striking a $15 minimum wage provision from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, and he has frequently said he won’t be moved on the filibuster, even when his own version of the voting rights act that conceded to Republican concerns was flatly rejected by the opposite party.
The gulf between the Poor People’s Campaign and Manchin might seem pretty wide. Or maybe it’s just hard bargaining.
In a meeting with members of the Gazette-Mail editorial board, Barber pointed to Manchin’s willingness to consider an $11 minimum wage (the current rate is $7.25 an hour) when meeting with the group earlier this year and Manchin’s effort to put forward a compromise package on voting reform as signs the man in the middle of everything in D.C. right now can be moved.
It’s possible Barber and his compatriots are asking for the moon, knowing they might get somewhere between sea level and the upper stratosphere once everything is said and done.
The hardest part isn’t convincing Manchin to embrace a higher minimum wage or expansion of voting rights. It’s the filibuster. Barber says he wants it abolished completely, referring to its use in the Jim Crow era to deny equal rights to minorities and its current use, in which he sees the same pattern. Multiple Republican states are enacting voting laws that will make it more difficult for key Democratic Party voting blocs — especially minorities and the poor — to cast their ballots.
Manchin eventually came around on the For the People Act, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is using the filibuster to stall the legislation. Hard-line partisanship leaves no hope of getting the necessary 60 votes to break the delay tactic.
The Poor People’s Campaign is hardly the only group putting pressure on Manchin regarding the filibuster. Political action committees are spending millions of dollars in ad buys in West Virginia, trying to get Manchin’s constituents to lend their voice to abolish the Senate rule or to keep it in place. So far, Manchin’s been steadfast in his defense of the filibuster.
There are options when it comes to this archaic Senate rule. It’s not like it hasn’t been tweaked before. For instance, now the minority party can filibuster any legislation it likes and simply leave the table, whereas, previously, senators had to stand in the room and speak, to filibuster a bill. If they yielded the floor, it was over. The filibuster also can be disregarded for certain issues or proceedings. McConnell nuked the filibuster as it pertained to federal judicial nominees, which allowed him to open an express lane of Trump appointees to the highest courts in the nation. The number of votes it takes to break a filibuster also has been changed in the past.
So, while it might seem like an outlandish request from those like Barber and Theoharis, there is room to negotiate with Manchin on this topic. All you can do is ask for everything and see where you get.