April 9, 2021

Manchin’s Filibuster Pledge

The West Virginia senator felt the need to make a high-profile promise.

With the Biden-Harris administration following the lead of House extremists and promoting a radically left-lurching agenda, the negative results of the January special election in Georgia loom larger and larger.

In practically any other state, finishing first on Election Day despite only receiving a plurality of the vote would have been good enough for Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Unfortunately, the Georgia rule that a majority of the vote is required extended the drama for an extra couple of months and made the runoff election a cause célèbre for progressives, so once the votes were tallied the Senate was cast into the evenly divided state of play we are now enduring with bated breath. Part of this apprehension comes from the Democrats’ serious talk of finally eliminating the longstanding protection of the minority called the filibuster.

The filibuster has been an endangered species for some time, though. Revised in the 1970s from its original 2/3 majority to a 3/5 threshold of 60 votes, it’s been further chipped away by rules on budgetary reconciliation and the elimination of judicial filibusters, first by Harry Reid and the Democrats on appellate court nominees, then by Mitch McConnell extending it to those seeking a seat on the Supreme Court. Had the filibuster been in place for those instances, President Donald Trump would have been completely stymied in reworking the judiciary from the Supreme Court on down. (Of course, now it’s President Joe Biden’s turn.)

Yet the Democrats’ radical agenda — which is being rammed through a closely divided House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi — has that final obstacle of needing 60 Senate votes to advance, and the two senators who stand in the way of the Left’s fever dreams are Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. While Sinema stands in opposition because she believes the Senate shouldn’t “erode the rules” and senators can “change their behavior and begin to work together,” she’s more malleable from electoral pressure in her home state, which has taken on more of a purple shade over the last few elections.

On the other hand, Manchin may be the only Democrat capable of winning in West Virginia — a state Donald Trump carried by 39 points — and it took two terms as a popular and outspoken governor who hasn’t been afraid to go against party orthodoxy on issues dear to his home state to earn him that status. It’s why people believed Manchin in November when he told Bret Baier of Fox News, “I will not be the 50th Democrat voting to end that filibuster or to basically stack the court, and in all the other things you’re hearing about.” It makes you wonder how many Georgia voters who were on the fence made their decision based on that assurance.

So, as our Douglas Andrews noted shortly after the Georgia election debacle, “Here we are, then, in the sorry position of having to count on a single Democrat politician to save us from ruin.” Three months have passed and we haven’t moved since, despite Manchin’s repeating the pledge this week in a Washington Post op-ed: “I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt: There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen over the years, this type of language often comes just before the betrayal — and we’ve already seen cracks in his pledge. “While Manchin has refused to consider eliminating the filibuster entirely, in March the senator said he was open to limited reform that would make the practice more ‘painful’ to implement,” warns Zachary Evans at National Review. “That position appears at odds with his op-ed claim that he wouldn’t vote to ‘weaken’ the filibuster.”

If he was serious about opposing the scrapping of the filibuster and other parts of the Democrat agenda, the move that would actually give Manchin credibility would be to pull a reverse Jim Jeffords and shift the entire Senate makeup by giving the Republicans a 51-49 majority. (It’s not an original idea, as our Mark Alexander pondered this scenario last month.) Despite Biden’s ham-handed attempt to keep Manchin on the reservation by picking his wife for a cushy government job, Manchin would probably be in office as long as Robert Byrd was should he pull that switch.

Until something earth-shattering like that happens, we have to treat Joe Manchin (and Kyrsten Sinema) like any other career politician and simply not take them at their word.

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