How Democrats Should Deal with Joe Manchin

Cartoon by Robert Crohan

Robert Crohan/Staff Writer

On January 5, Georgia voters narrowly cast their votes for two Democrats, the Reverend Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff, to represent them in the United States Senate. With such, the Democratic Party won control of the chamber, handing a moral boost to President-elect Biden and his platforms for delivering aid and unity to this fractured and suffering country.

So, the Democrats got ready to pass liberal milestones before the GOP could take back the Senate. Among these was a critical LGBTQA+ justice measure, the Equality Act, that was expected to travel to Biden’s desk timely and handily.

But it didn’t.

The delay lies in the hands of one man: Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of ruby-red West Virginia.

Manchin is the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. First elected in 2010 after serving two terms as Governor, he has represented the last finger of the Democratic Party clinging onto the West Virginia tightrope. Popular as he is controversial, he is reviled by many progressives just as the 50-50 Senate split hands him unmatched power. In essence, he is the Khamenei to the White House’s Rouhani.

In recent weeks, Manchin has voiced opposition to far-reaching voting reforms in the For the People Act, while being the Democrats’ saving grace for an infrastructure bill that does not include any GOP input. This has drawn praise and criticism from his right and left, respectively.

In my view, Manchin’s rise and the conflicts generated by such symbolize the tragedy of American politics as they stand today: bipartisanship and unity are seen as the roadblocks to delivering justice for millions.

Manchin has set out to revive bipartisanship, or so we’re led to believe. He has repeatedly made efforts to bring deals accomplished with Republican support in areas of infrastructure, voting rights and economic revival. This is vital, given his “swing” position and his representing an extremely Republican state. 

He published a well-worded op-ed reflecting on his experiences as a leader in partisan times in explaining why partisan voting rights efforts, along with the filibuster’s demise, could strangle our republic. He shares my concern about an overly powerful Democratic Party.

Obviously, a balancing act with so much at stake requires a cautious, well-thought-out approach from Manchin and his colleagues. Democrats must accept the reality for what it is, and balance their needs with the perspectives of Manchin and other moderate Democrats by outlining their interests and engaging in productive discussion. This is the only way, in my view, to ensure a functioning Congress that does not compromise our institutions and values for political gain.

First of all, we need to just deal.

In attacking Manchin, those with little to lose from Washington’s affairs seem to forget what his job is: to represent the people of West Virginia. He was elected to do this, after serving the state honorably for many years. West Virginia is no Maryland. It’s no Vermont, either. I don’t think residents are too keen on strict regulations, Green New Deals or defunding the police.

Plus, it is not Manchin’s job to tow a party line. This is the Democratic Party, not the Communist Party. Views within will vary, and, if anything, Democrats should appreciate that he can hold onto this soon-to-be-gone seat. Joe Manchin is a Democrat, like it or not, and he has no plans of changing that anytime soon because he is thinking for himself. If he does reverse course, the Democrats are doomed to GOP obstruction in the immediate term.

Manchin, after all, is one of only three sitting Democratic Senators from a red state, the others being Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana. And the map keeps getting less purple. By comparison, in the 111th Congress in Barack Obama’s first term, 13 states had one Democrat and one Republican in the Senate, compared to just six today. Manchin seems aware that he is near-certain to be kicked out of office come 2024 (unless West Virginians get enough of a kick out of progressive tears).

At the same time, however, many have questioned Manchin’s true intentions. He appears to be caving into Democratic leadership’s plans for a partisan infrastructure plan, something that seems very unusual. Manchin preserving the filibuster, a rule that requires 60 votes for key measures and permits drawn-out efforts to stall legislation, has drawn scrutiny, especially from people of color, who have pointed out its inherently anti-democratic and racist nature. 

Indeed, Black Americans’ voting rights are in the Constitution. The filibuster is not. Plus, why has Manchin not stood up for the Reverends William Barber and Jesse Jackson, who were arrested at a protest outside his office?

In my view, Democrats should converse with Manchin and other moderates about the other side of the debate: perhaps their efforts to save bipartisanship should be shelved until the assault on Black Americans’ voting rights is defeated. The GOP has made clear that this is a partisan effort, and I personally doubt that temporarily sacrificing one tenet of democracy to save a more important one will lead to the republic’s demise. Keeping Americans from voting, after so many lives were lost to gain that basic right, certainly would.

The filibuster flies in the face of direct democracy, frustrating many in all 50 states.

Black journalists, activists and observers have called Joe Manchin a racist. These voices should be considered by the Senator, as American leaders must confront racism in all forms. Perhaps by considering the experiences of Black West Virginians and others can the best judgments be made. I admire his willingness to learn from civil rights leaders and others, and make his own decision, but more input is needed from those on the front lines of the fight for democracy.

This holds especially true in these partisan times. With their blocking of the For the People Act, GOP leaders have made it painfully clear that they are in no mood to compromise. They have become more ruthless than ever, and Democrats need to unite around advancing workable policies. Some have argued that unless the filibuster is gutted, Washington will cease to effectively function.

As a result, Manchin proposed a voting rights compromise with several liberal priorities replaced. Democrats should seize it, lest state legislatures continue their slaughter of basic voting rights for millions.

The entire Democratic Party should have these conversations with Manchin. Maybe then can the best decisions for his constituents and his party be made. Not an easy job, but perhaps the most important one in the entire country as it stands today.

This will be a difficult process. Manchin’s bipartisan tendencies are inspiring and important, but, in my view, may need a temporary retirement in the face of more severe threats to the country we hold dear. He must make the best decisions for his constituents, and all Senators must listen to as many voices as they can. The Democratic Party must respect Manchin, work with him, and never lose hope. Otherwise, a certain opposition party will rewrite our Constitution.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community

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