Let me see if I have this straight: The very right to vote is being fed into a meat grinder in several of the GOP-controlled states Donald Trump lost, or almost lost, in 2020. For example, it is now illegal in Georgia to bring water and snacks to people forced to wait hours in line to vote, said lines existing thanks to several other new anti-voter rules that have also been enacted… but Congress can’t pass a voter protections bill.
There is an ongoing political crisis in this country over employment, one that has reached such a pitch that Republican governors are preparing to slash unemployment aid to force people back into low-paying and/or dangerous jobs… but Congress can’t pass an infrastructure bill and help folks get to work putting this crumbling country back together again.
Six months and one day ago, a raging army of Trump voters steamrolled law enforcement and sacked the U.S. Capitol building seeking to disrupt the certification of the November election. Several in the crowd were vocal about their desire to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence. People died, scores were injured, and human feces got smeared on the walls. Afterward, many of the attackers claimed they had been given permission to act by Trump, who whipped them into a frenzy before turning them loose on the city… but Congress can’t look into the root causes of that mayhem, though it happened in their offices, hallways and voting chambers.
The Democratic Party holds majority control in the House and Senate by a cat’s slim whisker at present, but they hold it nonetheless. The reason these immediately pressing crises remain unresolved is because Republicans have use of the filibuster, which was never intended to be a bedrock rule of Senate procedure. In fact, the filibuster was born in 1805 when Aaron Burr re-wrote the rules of the Senate without any oversight and accidentally created it. Cloture did not come to exist until 1917, and the filibuster itself wasn’t actually used until 1837.
In short, the filibuster rules were not handed down by the God of Parliamentary Procedure and chiseled onto stone tablets. There is nothing intrinsic about the filibuster that lends it special or protected status. Quite the opposite, in fact; the main use of the procedure for decades was to stymie civil rights laws and protect Jim Crow in the South. Anything so filthy and wrong should be stuffed into a sack and buried on a moonless night.
Yet here we sit, watching like helpless puppies as Mitch McConnell and his disciplined GOP minority drop 60-vote roadblocks in front of virtually every piece of legislation proposed by the Biden administration and the majority. They’re not even against all of the stuff they’re thwarting; the point is not progress, but to hobble the administration so they can run on (and fundraise off) those failed endeavors in 2022. The Republican Party appears to have no agenda beyond whatever Trump is on about this week. They are seeking to run out the clock, period.
Why is this tolerated? Because Joe Manchin, Democratic senator, wants it this way. He is not alone in his devotion to the filibuster rule — Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana and a smattering of other right-leaning Democrats share his profoundly misplaced zeal for it — but Manchin has placed himself foursquare in the middle of the debate, and he ain’t moving.
“I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” Manchin wrote in a goopy weekend op-ed for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “For as long as I have the privilege of being your U.S. senator, I will fight to represent the people of West Virginia, to seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult and to develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.”
For the record, Manchin also used this op-ed to announce his opposition to the proposed voting rights bill. His reason? Republicans don’t like it enough.
Manchin’s apparently bottomless desire to screw his own party is so monumental, in fact, that even the folks at Fox News felt compelled to call him out. “The question I have is whether or not you’re doing it exactly the wrong way,” pressed Fox anchor Chris Wallace on Sunday. “If you were to keep the idea that maybe you would vote to kill the filibuster, wouldn’t that give Republicans an incentive to actually negotiate because old Joe Manchin is out there and who knows what he’s going to do? By taking it off the table, haven’t you empowered Republicans to be obstructionists?”
A sound argument, to which Manchin could only reply with some version of, “Barg barg barg barg brave Republicans barg barg barg good signs barg barg Republican friends barg barg give us time.” That’s the thing, Sunny Joe: There is no time. We are pinwheeling toward the massive August recess, and by the time Congress returns, all they will be thinking about is next year’s elections. This is where the rubber meets the road, right here and now, and possibly for the last time. That’s why they’re running out the clock.
For his part, Trump thinks Manchin is doing the Lord’s work, and went out of his way to say so. “It’s a very important thing,” the former president told Fox Business this morning. “He’s doing the right thing, and it’s a very important thing.” Of course, Trump was all over McConnell to do away with the filibuster back when Republicans held the majority, but consistency has not been a GOP strong suit for a while now. Besides, the rest of that interview involved Trump howling about “phony lockboxes” on Facebook that accounted for “96 percent Biden votes.” Maybe not so much for listening to that guy anymore, under any circumstances, please?
This situation has been a ticking time bomb since the returns came in last November and revealed the Democratic Senate majority to be exactly as tall as Vice President Kamala Harris. Progressives in the House are on the verge of a full-scale flip-out, but at present there seems to be no omnibus solution to the Manchin dilemma.
Someone might ask Chuck Schumer what business an obstructionist right-wing Democrat from a sparsely populated coal state has chairing the Energy Committee, but punish Manchin too severely and he could switch parties. He would pay no price for this — Trump won West Virginia by pretty much all the points, and the GOP would erect statues in honor of him — and McConnell would retain majority control, thus giving vital chairmanships back to luminaries like Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley. I believe we all had about a budget of that bad noise the last time around.
Does Joe Biden have enough Lyndon Johnson in him to get in there and lay about with a rhetorical 2×4 until Manchin sees the error of his ways? Because that seems to be the only way out of this impasse short of a meteor strike or an attack by Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster. Biden has nothing of substance to threaten Manchin with, and Manchin knows full well he is sitting on an ace-high straight. If the senior senator from West Virginia does not fold, this promises to be another futile, infuriating summer.