Image Credits: CNN.
White House staff had given Manchin a heads-up on Thursday that the president was soon to put out a statement accepting a delay in the Build Back Better Act and that it was going to mention the West Virginia senator by name. Manchin objected, asking that either his name be left out or that he not be alone because his family had already been the target of abuse and he didn’t want to be singled out.
But the statement went out anyway, and contained only Manchin’s name. The senator then snapped at White House aides and told them that he was done negotiating.
A lot of focus is being put on Manchin’s thin skin. Some people are obviously blaming White House staff for making a gross error in judgment. But one key here is that Manchin’s emotional state was molded over time. His objection to being singled out wasn’t a reaction to prior inconsiderate behavior from the administration. It’s the administration’s supposed supporters who have bombarded him with the harshest kind of criticism, and this has gone on for months. Most importantly, Manchin expressed a concern for his family. It goes unmentioned in the cited paragraph above, but Manchin’s daughter has been a particular target of abuse.
Take, for example, our progressive “allies” at Jacobin who published “Meet Joe Manchin’s Appalling Daughter” in late October. That followed The Intercept‘s September profile, “Heather Bresch, Joe Manchin’s Daughter, Played Direct Part In Epipen Price Inflation Scandal.” In the midst of this, members of the progressive Sunrise Movement and DSA decided to go to Bresch’s home.
Pittsburgh members of the Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Resistance woke up early on Tue., Oct. 12 to deliver a “job offer” to the gated Sewickley Heights home of Heather Bresch, daughter of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and former lobbyist and pharmaceutical executive. Activist stood in front of the gate of suburban Pittsburgh early in the morning on Oct. 12.
Members of the organizations delivered speeches about Manchin’s refusal to support President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, which has put the reconciliation bill in limbo.
I have never understood why progressives thought this kind of “activism” would be helpful. Don’t people know that politicians tend to be petty and vindictive? Politicians don’t like it when people say that they’re a crook in the pocket of dark money donors, Launching blistering attacks at Manchin and his daughter has always seemed like a good way to get him to do the opposite of what you want.
And it’s not just the Build Back Better bill that is at stake. Maybe you saw this in the news last week:
The Senate confirmed President Biden’s 40th federal judicial nominee early on Saturday morning, the most judges confirmed in a president’s first year in the last 40 years.
In a pre-dawn mad dash before leaving Washington for the holidays, lawmakers confirmed 10 district court judges, bringing the year-end total to 40 and notching an achievement not seen since former President Ronald Reagan. It underscored how the White House has set a rapid pace in filling vacancies on the federal bench, even besting the records set by the Trump administration, which maintained a laser focus on reshaping the judiciary.
You obviously know that few of those judges would have been confirmed without Manchin voting for cloture to end debate on their nominations, right? If Manchin were to change parties and stop voting with the Democrats on procedural issues, almost no White House appointments would be filled, and those that were would be less progressive and take a longer time to get a vote. Not only that, but the Senate could be reorganized and all committee gavels might get turned over to a Republican since they would be in the majority.
This isn’t to suggest that Manchin and his daughter don’t deserve criticism. My focus is on who is dishing out that criticism and why.
The White House has been respectful and solicitous to Manchin because it had to be. Everything they want to do depends on him. And yet the second they made a misstep, Manchin flipped out. This shows how emotion plays such an important part in how these decisions get made.
We’ve seen this before. Back in 2010, then-Sen. Joe Lieberman revealed in an interview with the New York Times that he decided to oppose a Medicare buy-in in the Affordable Care Act because liberals like Rep. Anthony Weiner thought it was a good idea. In other words, Lieberman spiked the reform purely for spite and because he had the power to sustain a filibuster against Obamacare.
I know there’s a school of thought that Manchin always intended to walk away and that the White House statement simply provided a convenient excuse. I have two thoughts on that. First, it’s basically irrelevant to the conversation about strategy. If Manchin could never be convinced, then there was no good or bad strategy. It was an impossible task, and Manchin should have made that clear from the outset.
Second, if there was some glimmer of hope, however small, the strategy needed to be based on changing Manchin’s mind. If he wasn’t interested in the merits because he’s bought off by corporate interests, then pretty much the only way to bring him around was to appeal to his emotions. This has pretty much been the Republicans’ approach. They say nothing but nice things about him. They continually invite him to join their party. They understand that Manchin is under a ton of pressure to side with Biden and his own party, and they don’t want to give him more reasons to go along.
These progressive activists, however, seem to think Manchin should have been punched harder.
The problem isn't that people were trying to beat Manchin into submission, it's that they weren't. His coal company and his daughter are both leverage points which could have easily been used against him, but weren't. https://t.co/jbIjj3XFGq
— Ian Welsh (@iwelsh) December 20, 2021
“Senator Manchin, I was raised to not lie! … You’re looking ahead to get yourself elevated to another position, while you’re stepping right on all of us. We are under your feet. I don’t wanna be under your feet. … You are a big liar!” —Jean Evansmore @WestVirginiaPPC pic.twitter.com/TwAGxMPkLI
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) December 20, 2021
Ian Welsh is an idiot. As for Rev. Barber, I admire him greatly and I’m not going to tell him what to do or how to do it. But if he thinks he’s making Manchin more inclined to support filibuster reform to enact a voting rights bill, he’s simply mistaken. And of course there will be no voting rights bill without Manchin.
By a 74%-to-25% margin, Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters (who we’ll call potential Republican primary voters) say that Biden didn’t win enough votes to win the 2020 election legitimately…
The margin grows to 86% to 13% that Biden didn’t win legitimately among potential Republican primary voters who are extremely enthusiastic about voting next year. Compare that to Republicans who are not enthusiastic about voting in 2022: They believe Biden didn’t win legitimately by a 62% to 38% margin.
Those are national numbers from a September CNN/SSRS poll. A MetroNews West Virginia Poll from the same month showed that 43 percent of the state’s residents believe “voting fraud and election rigging” account for Biden’s victory. Do these people sound like they’re clamoring for a bill that will make it easier for Democrats to vote?
A November survey of West Virginia from a Republican pollster found Manchin with a 61-37 approval rating compared to 32-65 for the president. So, while it may be true that West Virginians are poorer, less educated and in worse health than average, and that they stand to gain tremendously from many of the programs in the Build Back Better bill, it’s simply not the case that they want Manchin to enact it. He’s doing just fine with them doing what he has been doing, which is acting like a very conservative Democrat and a constant irritant to liberals.
Why would he defy his own constituents on this?
Maybe because he knows that they’d be better off in the long run. Maybe because the president said nice things about him.
Maybe there was never a chance, but it sure as hell didn’t help to keep calling him names and going after his family.
And this isn’t over. The Build Back Better bill isn’t fully dead, nor is the voting rights bill. There’s a whole year left of appointing and legislating before the Republicans retake Congress. Maybe we’ll want 50 senators for that?
Just a thought.