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All eyes on Manchin

It’s been long an annoyance for West Virginians when people with national platforms can’t identify the state or lump is in with Virginia. After U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin officially came out against the For the People Act last week, we’re in the spotlight now.

In an op-ed and in Sunday TV news appearances last week, Manchin officially came out against the For the People Act and made it clear — for the umpteenth time — that he will not support eliminating the filibuster to allow the election reform bill to pass with only a simple 51-member majority.

Manchin’s statement probably helped do more to put West Virginia on the map for those who still think we’re part of Virginia, though now people know where to aim their eggs and tomatoes.

People, particularly those of a liberal/progressive bent, shouldn’t be surprised by Manchin’s stance. In a state that went overwhelmingly for former president Donald Trump, where the majority of party affiliations switched to Republican in the last few months, and where Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner won a second term by re-defeating former Democratic secretary of state Natalie Tennant, people here made it clear they like their elections as is.

That’s understandable, as West Virginia had a very successful 2020 primary and general election in the midst of a pandemic and with record-setting turnout. Warner and county clerks deserve praise obviously, but Democratic lawmakers prior to 2015 and even Tennant (and perhaps Manchin himself, a former secretary of state prior to Tennant) deserve some praise in helping craft the laws, rules, and regulations that allowed the state to navigate a strange election season.

As I’ve reported, 54 out of 55 county clerks oppose the For the People Act. I’m sure some haven’t read the bill or are basing their opinions on briefings by others. I imagine if you broke down the details of the bill, some clerks would find things they like. Frankly, that’s one of the problems with the bill: it’s too darn big. I swear, I find something new in the bill every time I go to read about it.

Point being: Manchin will not be hurt politically from his opposition to the current form of the bill (it’s possible the bill will be changed to placate Manchin by the time it comes to the Senate floor for a vote in three weeks). Progressives have had chances to get someone in the U.S. Senate. Paula Jean Swearingen challenged Manchin in the 2018 Democratic primary and lost big, and she lost substantially to Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito in 2020.

Manchin is probably the only Democratic Party member who can keep getting elected statewide at this point. The Senate Democratic Caucus needs him. Despite these stances, he is still very much a reliable Biden vote. He’s still a force within the state Democratic Party (yes, I’m aware of this fight regarding the affirmative action plan between chairwoman Belinda Biafore and progressive members of the state party. It’s pretty much inside baseball stuff though).

Manchin will be fine politically should he decided to run again in 2024. Also pointed out by others, Manchin is kind of a heat shield for other Senate Democrats who have similar concerns. Manchin can take the heat, and those senators will be grateful.

It’s also possible that by Manchin taking this stance, the For the People Act will be crafted in a way to alleviate the concerns of Manchin and county clerks. An attempt to do that through a manager’s amendment failed, but some believe that same amendment could be incorporated into the bill when it comes to the floor. Frankly, I’m annoyed by the hyperbole on both sides of the issues by Republicans and Democrats.

•••

Turning to infrastructure, the talks between Capito and President Joe Biden fell through last week. The President seemed to start out operating in good faith, but it appears while he was negotiation with Capito he was also playing footsie with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus (which includes Manchin). He was also talking to U.S. Sen. Krystin Sinema, R-Ariz., who was also working with at least one Senate Republican on an infrastructure compromise.

Nevermind the fact Biden was also still working with Democrats in the House of Representatives on a package to his original American Jobs Plan. The whole thing reminds me of the famous sitcom skit where the jock tries to take three different girls out on a dinner date at the same time in the same restaurant.

If you need 10 Republicans in order to get to the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster threat, this is not a good way to gain their support.

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