“This position, I guess, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” he told billionaire Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein Tuesday morning in reference to his role as the critical 50th Democratic vote in the Senate.
To which I say: Really?
What position would Manchin not wish on others? The one where he is — almost single-handedly — determining what makes it in (and what is left out) of President Joe Biden’s massive social safety net bill?
I mean, come on.
The centrality of Manchin to the success — or failure — of the bulk of Biden’s first-term domestic agenda was on vivid display during a CNN town hall with the President last week.
A proposal to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing? “Here’s the thing. Mr. Manchin is — is opposed to that,” acknowledged Biden.
Free community college? “Here’s the deal. Mr. Manchin and one other person has indicated that they will not support free community college,” said Biden. (The “other person” is Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.)
A clean energy plan that has been dropped from the overall package? “Joe Manchin’s argument is: ‘Look, we still have coal in my state,'” explained Biden. “You’re going to eliminate it eventually. We know it’s going away. We know it’s going to be gone, but don’t rush it so fast that my people don’t have anything to do.”
At one point, Biden openly admitted how much power any one senator has in a 50-50 Senate.
“When you’re in the United States Senate and you’re president of the United States and you have 50 Democrats, every one is a president,” Biden said to laughter form the crowd. “Every single one. So you’ve got to work things out.”
The simple fact is that more than any of the other 49 Democrats in the Senate — up to and including Sinema — Manchin has very publicly made clear what he wants and what he doesn’t want in the social safety net bill. He has single-handedly eliminated programs included in the original proposal. He has slowed the timing on the passage of the overall legislation — calling for a “strategic pause” on it in early September.
And it’s not just the social safety net bill either! Manchin has deep-sixed attempts at passing a broad voting rights reform package favored by Biden as well as Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. He has made clear he opposes any changes to the current rules governing legislative filibusters, ensuring that any attempts by Democratic leaders to make those changes are for naught.
In short: Manchin has, repeatedly, been able to exert more power over the Democratic agenda than any other single senator. To believe that he has wielded that sort of power only reluctantly is a major stretch — especially when considering just how public Manchin has been about his various likes and dislikes, in both the social safety net bill and other Biden proposals.(As The Washington Post put it of Manchin’s “wouldn’t wish it on anybody” comment: “A remark that skimmed over just how eagerly and thoroughly he has sought to shape Biden’s legislative agenda to his liking.”)
Manchin has purposely put himself in this position as the deciding vote on the Biden agenda. He has done so because a) it allows him to exert maximum influence over said agenda and b) it is good for his politics in a state where Donald Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016 and 2020.
Which is fine! And absolutely his right! But, let’s not pretend that Manchin is some sort of reluctant power-wielder. This is politics, after all.