Joe Manchin, the Filibuster, and Failure Theater

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The Senate has a 50-50 split. While, in theory, Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote, that vote only comes into play when there is a tie. Her vote, needless to say, is not terribly useful as to accomplish anything substantive requires (in most cases) 60 votes because of the filibuster. The filibuster is proving to be a major roadblock to the raw power grab emanating from Nancy Pelosi’s House called H.R. 1., the so-called “For the People Act” that seeks to enshrine vote fraud in federal statutes. Because the filibuster makes the main progressive policy initiative out of reach, the filibuster has been targeted for elimination by the Democrat party.

Story after story has appeared, equating the filibuster with racism. For instance, noted scholar Zack Beauchamp writing at that seething, effervescing puddle of failure known as Vox.com posts The filibuster’s racist history, explained. (As an aside, Beauchamp is the goof who wrote a lengthy story on the bridge connecting Gaza to the West Bank and damned the Israelis for arbitrarily blocking it. SPOILER ALERT: there is no such bridge. At some point, Vox changed its tagline from “The smartest thinkers, the toughest questions” to “There’s power in understanding.”) The Associated Press trumpets Senate filibuster’s racist past fuels arguments for its end.

Harris’s vote suddenly becomes vital is Chuck Schumer makes a concerted push to eliminate the filibuster forever. That process, known as the “nuclear option,” relies upon the vote of a majority of senators to change Senate rules. It has been used twice. In 2013, Harry Reid used this tactic to eliminate the filibuster for all presidential nominations except those to the Supreme Court. In 2017, Mitch McConnell put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court bench by this procedural move. All it takes is Senate Democrats voting as a bloc, with Harris breaking the tie, and the filibuster is relegated to the dustbin of history, so to speak; in fact, Schumer is making a huge showing of doing exactly that:

Top Democrats are preparing to make the case to impose new limits on the filibuster, in a move that could bring to a head six months of smoldering tensions over an expected Republican blockade of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

The Senate had its first filibuster of this Congress last week, when Republicans used the tactical rule to block a bipartisan House-passed measure to create a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Capitol attack perpetrated a pro-Trump mob.

Even as a majority of senators voted in favor of the commission, the bill’s defeat at the hands of Republicans deploying the filibuster underscored the ease with which legislation can be blocked under current Senate rules that require a 60-vote margin in the 100-strong chamber.

Republicans at the same time last week delayed a bipartisan measure aimed at improving American competitiveness with China, also proving to Democrats that the party was more interested in denying legislative wins to Biden than advancing bills that they helped write.

Now, in an attempt to demonstrate Republicans have all but turned the filibuster into a weapon to wage bad-faith politics, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is embarking on a strategy to force votes on some of Biden’s most high-profile measures.

Against such a backdrop, Schumer’s plan has rattled Republicans. And on Monday, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell railed against the planned series of votes, slamming it as a partisan ploy that is “transparently designed to fail”.

“Senate Democrats intend to focus this month on the demands of their radical base,” McConnell said.

Earlier in the week, as part of this strategy, Schumer brought to the floor the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” which went down in flames (for the record, it didn’t even get 50 votes, so how this focuses attention on the filibuster is beyond my grasp of grand strategy):

But the bill’s fast-track introduction by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, had a broader purpose: to build support for changing Senate rules to modify or end the legislative filibuster. Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are the most outspoken Democratic defenders of the filibuster, but other senators who caucus with the party have their misgivings.

For the past month or so, a lot of conservatives have been fanboi-ing over West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. Manchin has been a vocal defender of the filibuster. He wrote an op-ed in his home state’s leading paper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, explaining his decision to not go along with the plan to demolish the filibuster (see Democrats Have Blood Coming out of Their ‘Wherever’ Because of Joe Manchin). This drew a bizarre response from New York Democrat Mondaire Jones:

I don’t know about you, but whenever I try to convince someone to change their point of view, I always call them a racist. I find it works great.

It may be true that Manchin is showing that extremely rare trait called “political courage.” But forgive me if I have my doubts.

Throughout the Obama Era, we were treated to performance after Oscar-worthy performance of Failure Theater. Failure Theater happens when a political party puts on a big show of fighting for something their base really wants with no intention of actually delivering. If you are a conservative, do a quick mental inventory of the times before President Trump that we were promised that Planned Parenthood would be defunded only to see funding continue uninterrupted. (See my stories on Failure Theater.) Before we declare Joe Manchin, a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool, Democrat of not particularly conservative leanings, the savior of the Republic, we should consider that this is all theater being put on for the benefit of the mouthbreathing sheep-fetishists in Portland and other progressive parts of the nation. Keep in mind that even though Mitch McConnell has much more experience at Failure Theater than Chuck Schumer, Schumer is a much superior practitioner of the art as he can plausibly feign sincerity for short periods of time.

Joe Manchin is a Democrat senator in a state Trump carried by 40 points. Forty points. Four. Zero. His only competitive advantage is that he is a political fixture in West Virginia, having run statewide since 1982. He comes from a family that has held public office on the state and local level in West Virginia for the last fifty years. In my view, it is no accident that Manchin went to the Charleston Gazette-Mail for an op-ed of national import rather than turning to the Washington Post or New York Times. His decision is much more focused on West Virginia politics than it is on anything Chuck Schumer wants to do—assuming, of course, that we really know what Schumer wants to do.

Back in May, Politico, in a story headlined Senate Dems agonize over voting rights strategy, hints that Senate support for Nancy Pelosi’s decapitation attack on the idea of federalism is not as popular as we’ve been led to believe.

Democrats are preparing to kick off a sensitive internal debate over the issue this month as the Senate Rules Committee takes up the sprawling House package. But no Republicans support it, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) hasn’t signed on and at least a half-dozen Democrats have issues with the bill, according to senators and aides.

Though the bill has 49 co-sponsors, a Democratic source said a handful of Democrats still have some reservations. Not signing on, however, would risk public blowback from the left.

As a second Democratic senator put it: “It’s not clear to me that it’s actually true that all is doomed if we don’t pass S1.”<<

This is the situation as I see it. Pelosi has created a monstrous and unconstitutional bill to protect her caucus in what has the potential to be a bloodletting in 2022. S is well aware of the flaws in the bill, but she also knows any challenges to the bill will not have played out by election day. Schumer, to appease the progressive mob, is pushing the bill forward. The catch is that to move the bill to a vote, he must kill the filibuster. I doubt seriously that he or very many Democrats really want to do that as they could find themselves in the next Congress. For some of them, bringing this bill to a vote would require them to either vote against their own political interests or enrage the online left. According to Politico, there is a belief among several Democrat senators that Schumer’s purpose in pushing Pelosi’s bill is to keep the issue in play during the 2022 election and use it to whip the Antifa/CNN wing of the Democrat party into a frenzy.

With those math problems and internal divisions in mind, some Democrats questioned the party’s strategy. One Democratic senator, who requested anonymity, worried that the party could be seen as bluffing if it can’t follow through. That senator said that “the goal of the authors is to get it signed into law. I don’t see a path.”

“I’ve never understood it. Task one, go figure out if you can go out and get 50 votes. Task two, go out and see if there’s any path towards ending the filibuster over this. And I don’t see it,” the senator said. “The country would be better off if we can pass the whole damn thing. My concerns are primarily: What can we possibly get to pass this place?”

Other Democrats conceded they aren’t sure what the grand plan is. Is it to use voting rights as the pivot point to changing the filibuster, an already uphill battle? Or is it a vote intended to unite the party and embarrass Republicans when they block it?<<

This is where Manchin comes in.

Because Manchin is bulletproof at home, he can stop the worst parts of the Democrat agenda, the parts that might result in a GOP Congress in 2022, at the expense of torquing progressive voters who don’t live in West Virginia. He builds goodwill with colleagues who are not forced to make a tough vote. He helps Schumer keep the filibuster. Schumer gets plenty of television time, and he gets to demagogue this issue during the upcoming election.