The Democrats have a majority in Congress – but it’s razor-thin. Of all people, the Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is blocking Joe Biden’s initiatives. Does the president fail because of him?
The man who is making the US president’s life increasingly difficult loves his homeland more than his nation. At least that’s how it looks at first glance. For Joe Manchin, home means: West Virginia. This is the home of the US Democratic Senator. Manchin was governor here before. Here he became the most vehement opponent of his own party and of his President Joe Biden and the bogeyman of an entire nation. At least the part that calls itself progressive.
Who is this man and what makes him an attractive figure in your own ranks? Joe Manchin’s political life is shaped by his unconditional will to survive politically. That doesn’t distinguish him from most other politicians. But in his state he needs a particularly strong will to survive. At least as a democrat. Because West Virginia is firmly in the hands of the Republicans. In the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, Donald Trump got almost 70 percent of the vote here. Even so, Joe Manchin has twice won the Senate seat for the Democrats. He’s a bit like a social democrat who unexpectedly made a career in Bavaria.
The Anti-Joe: Manchin is Biden’s adversary from West Virginia. (Source: Reuters)
That is why Manchin is doing a lot to be non-partisan. If he wears a face mask, it is of course adorned with the West Virginia emblem. He never misses an opportunity to express his deep connection – even his wife’s birthday conveniently coincides with the founding day of the 35th US state.
“Happy Birthday to West Virginia & to my lovely wife, Gayle,” he wrote on his Instagram account on June 20. Plus a photo with her, arm in arm, posing above a river valley lined with green forests. Gayle was 74 years old and West Virginia 158. Manchin’s political message about this: Everyone in West Virginia should be proud of “how far we have come and how far we will go”.
Manchin is the hate figure of the Democrats
It sounds like self-praise to him. Because it is Joe Manchin who has actually come a long way in the face of the overwhelming power of the Republicans in West Virginia. And many Democrats wonder how far he will go. Because of all things the 73-year-old Democrat in the US Senate lets his own President Joe Biden stumble with his legislative proposals.
The other Joe, according to the criticism of Manchin’s opponents, is behaving like a Republican in disguise and thereby endangering the already wafer-thin Senate majority. At the moment there is a de facto stalemate: 50 Republicans face 48 Democrats and two independent Senators, who almost always vote with the Democrats. According to the constitution, in the event of a stalemate, Vice President Kamala Harris, who chairs the Senate, has the casting vote. There is thus a majority of one vote for the Democrats.
If so, if Joe Manchin plays along. But he almost always threatens to be blocked: Whether it is about important legislative proposals by the Democrats for billion-dollar investments in infrastructure, stricter gun laws, climate protection, reform to protect the right to vote or immigration law. The political magazine “The New Republic” has already called Manchin the “King of the Senate”.
The Senate is a complicated structure. In order to prevent legislative initiatives from being blocked further and further, it often takes 60 out of 100 votes. But if even with the Democrats the ranks are not closed because of Manchin’s special path, it will be even easier for the Republicans to oppose non-partisan compromises.
Especially since the Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell has declared the complete blockade of the Biden government to be the goal of this legislature. Manchin is also preventing the attempt by the Democrats to abolish the so-called filibuster rule, which the Republicans could use to stop bills.
No wonder that many supporters of the Democrats not only vent their displeasure with Manchin’s Instagram home pictures. They protest in the streets, asking him to finally stop his cross shots. Manchin is the figure of hatred in their own ranks. Especially with the progressives, such as the New York MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So it’s no wonder that Republican supporters are delighted with such a Democrat.
But how does he justify his behavior? Joe Manchin is one of the moderate Democrats. He states that the real concern of his blocking stance is to establish the often necessary non-partisanship in this way in the first place. He portrays himself as an understanding of the Republicans, as a link in the US Senate, which has long been deeply divided – with noticeable success.
Joe Biden recently had a hard time selling an interim, non-partisan compromise on his infrastructure plan as a success. The total investment, which he has now agreed with some Republicans and with Joe Manchin, is 1.2 trillion US dollars, well below the originally announced 2 trillion US dollars. The president also lets himself be negotiated in the parallel negotiations on Biden’s investment program in the social sector. Nothing seems to be left of the grandly announced tax on the rich for counter-financing either.
The lonely exceptional democrat
But why is Manchin torpedoing its own party and its own president? On the one hand, there is his personal motivation. An important reason is that the state, which is just west of the US capital Washington, DC, has long been strongly republican. In hardly any other country did Donald Trump get so much approval in 2016 and 2020.
Joe Manchin looks like a Republican exception among the Democrats in Washington, DC. In his native West Virginia, however, he is the lonely exceptional Democrat. His victories as Senator in 2012 and 2018 are therefore considered to be the most impressive political triumphs in the United States. In addition, his successes in enemy territory give him an aura of power, which he actually possesses. This ensures Manchin’s independence from President Biden and his own party.
On the other hand, his actions in the upcoming mid-term elections in 2022 for Congress could mobilize voters for the Democrats. It is more than questionable whether this will succeed. Because, as I said, the state is deeply republican. Manchin is popular as a person. His own re-election as senator would not be due again until 2024. But even if his actions were to help the Democrats in the 2022 elections, what would be gained for the Democrats if the price was for their bills to be watered down to such an extent that they could also come from Republicans?
Do some people make the US president the “Lame Duck”?
Therefore, many suspect that Manchin’s positions have to do not only with the fact that he wants to survive politically as a Democrat in a republican state. In fact, Manchin’s positions are sometimes so conservative that real convictions can also be assumed behind them. Maybe he’s really ticking in such a way that he hardly seems to fit in with the Democrats.
Until the end, he campaigned against the recognition of same-sex marriage. Instead of following his party line on the question of abortion, which is deeply divisive in the USA, he campaigned against it in the spirit of the Republican pro-life movement. His rather liberal stance on gun ownership has earned him the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA) for a while. Manchin was even under discussion for Trump’s cabinet. He regularly voted in the US Senate for candidates nominated by Trump.
But Manchin’s special role with the Democrats has another aspect that is important. He is apparently one of the few in the Senate who still want to approach the political opponent. While the Democrats have moved further and further to the left in the range of topics in recent years, the Republicans have not only moved significantly further to the right, but are now clearly tolerating anti-democratic tendencies in their own ranks, including supporters of the conspiracy ideology QAnon. With the result that non-partisan compromises hardly seem possible.
Joe Manchin firmly believes that his rapprochement and compromise tactics can lead to success not just for him in West Virginia but across the country. It is his way of overcoming the division in the country.
During Joe Biden’s presidency it will be seen whether he is wrong. The US president may only have until 2022 to push through the Democrats’ most important plans. The probability is too great that after the midterm elections, the majority in Congress will tilt in favor of the Republicans.
Joe Manchin is already making a major decision on whether Joe Biden will go down in history as a successful president or whether it will end in the first half of his term as what many presidents will only face in their second term. They can actually no longer pass laws and are largely powerless. You eke out a political existence as a “lame duck”.