Joe Manchin has defied the Democrats five times

Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) is the most conservative Democrat in the Senate — and perhaps the most controversial, at least with the rest of his party.

On the one hand, Manchin’s willingness to defy his party’s orthodoxies has enabled his political survival. He won re-election to a second full Senate term in 2018, just two years after President Trump led his state by more than 40 points.

But Manchin’s actions have left many in his party glowing about his willingness to derail their agenda. For his internal critics, he single-handedly ruined their best chance in years to bring about sweeping change.

“Manchin is not particularly concerned about President Biden’s success. He doesn’t particularly care about the needs of working people,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Friday on SiriusXM’s “Dean Obeidallah Show.”

Manchin is powerful partly because of circumstances – in a 50-50 Senate his party can pass almost nothing without him.

Here are five of Manchin’s most dramatic cases of fighting the party line.

July 2022 – capsizes push for action on climate change

Manchin ignited many months of negotiations on climate change on Thursday.

By his own admission, he told Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) that it would not be “wise” to proceed.

Earlier in the week, Manchin had begun to distance himself from the negotiations, arguing that the need to cut gas prices militates against any move to curb fossil fuel production.

Manchin then banged the door ajar on Friday by telling a West Virginia radio station that he might revisit the proposals when the next inflation figures come out next month.

But even if other Democrats did take him at his word — and they’re not in the mood for it — they would have an extremely tight window to pass legislation. Due to complicated procedural reasons, such a law would probably have to be passed by September 30th.

Manchin’s refusal to back any climate proposal could derail action for years to come given the high probability of Republicans flipping the House of Representatives in November.

Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) independently used the same term to describe Manchin’s attitude this week: “Furious.”

October 2018 – Votes confirming Brett Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court

The 2018 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were tumultuous even by Trump-era standards.

Kavanaugh, a staunch conservative nominated to replace a more centrist figure, Justice Anthony Kennedy, faced four decades of sexual assault charges from Christine Blasey Ford.

Liberal women in particular sided with Ford and demanded that Kavanaugh not be confirmed. Kavanaugh reacted with palpable anger.

At the time, Senate Republicans held a 51-49 majority, but Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would ultimately refuse to endorse Kavanaugh. That left Manchin and moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) the deciding votes.

Within hours, both supported Trump’s election. Manchin was the only Democrat to do so.

The West Virginia senator said in a statement he had “concerns” about confirming Kavanaugh given Ford’s allegations and “the temper.” [Kavanaugh] displayed at the hearing.”

Ultimately, however, he concluded that the judge would “sent in accordance with our Constitution”.

The vote took place about a month before Manchin’s re-election.

Last month, after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade, Manchin said he was “alarmed” by the actions of Kavanaugh and Judge Neil Gorsuch, the other Trump nominee he voted for.

The judges, Manchin said, testified under oath that they viewed Roe as “a closed precedent,” only to choose to “reject the stability that the verdict has created for two generations of Americans.”

December 2021 – Sinks President Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation

Perhaps Manchin’s most dramatic intervention was his announcement that he would nullify President Biden’s key bill, the Build Back Better Act.

The fact that he decided to announce his opposition on Fox News further outraged the Liberal Democrats.

“I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I’m not going there,” Manchin told Fox News Sunday on Dec. 19, 2021.

Manchin then released a statement reiterating his opposition to legislation that would have included extending an expanded child tax credit, helping with childcare costs, taxing high earners more heavily and taking significant action on climate change, among other things.

His move was particularly galling for Democrats, who had spent months pushing a package through Congress. The process often descended into intra-party struggles that slowed momentum to a crawl and eroded Biden’s political capital.

Manchin’s defenders point out that he never said he was on board with the huge plan the Democratic leadership initially proposed — a proposal that totaled $3.5 trillion in one iteration.

But progressives, always suspicious of Manchin, believed he had led them and the president down the wrong path. In the eyes of the left, Manchin never really intended to support a comprehensive social spending bill, no matter how many concessions he was offered. The package was down to $1.75 trillion by the time he ended talks.

Even the White House was furious. After Manchin announced his opposition, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused him of “a sudden and inexplicable reversal of his position.”

June 2021: Ruins potential party consensus on “For the People” electoral reform legislation.

Electoral reform was one of Democrats’ primary goals as they retook the White House — and control of the Senate — in the 2020 election.

Many in the party see American democracy in existential danger. Schumer declared the protection of the right to vote and the elections themselves to be “the highest priority”.

The answer the party proposed was the “For the People” bill.

This would have mandated two-week early voting in federal elections, made voter registration automatic rather than voluntary, restored the right to vote to offenders who had served their time, and allowed same-day registration.

The legislation never had a clear path through the Senate and required 60 votes to pass in the absence of filibuster reform. But Manchin even denied the Democrats’ claims that they were united behind the proposal.

In an op-ed for his home state, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Manchin complained that the dispute over voting rights was “overtly politicized” — and defended Republicans against criticism sent to them by members of his own party.

“This more than 800-page bill has failed to garner Republican support. Why? Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump for actions that have led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support measures to strengthen our democracy?” he wrote.

In the same comment, Manchin reiterated his opposition to filibuster reform, putting the final nail in the coffin of the For the People proposal.

Manchin returned three months later to push a more modest measure, the Freedom to Vote Act, which he said had a better chance of garnering GOP support.

He failed and soon ran aground.

2013 – Present: Prevents Filibuster Reform

Democrats often get angry with Manchin because they believe he is acting in bad faith.

The skeptics claim he’s showing an interest in doing deals he doesn’t sincerely want to do before running off in public.

To be fair to the West Virginia senator, liberals also fret over a position he has consistently held: opposition to filibuster reform.

In one of many statements outlining his position, Manchin’s office detailed his consistent stance from 2013 when he opposed such reform while Democrats held the Senate majority.

Progressives argue that the filibuster is inherently anti-democratic; and that the case for creating exceptions should prevail as the nation grapples with grave issues ranging from a rising tide of authoritarianism to the repeal of constitutional abortion rights.

Manchin’s answer was always “No”.

And in a 50-50 Senate, that’s the ball game.

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