The US Senate returned to work Tuesday, commencing a bright new year in which all things seemed possible. It’s the first year since 2016 in which Donald Trump will not be president even for one day. As if to remind us of our clean political slate, Washington was blanketed in clean white snow. And yet some things don’t change: Joe Manchin spent the day talking about Joe Manchin.
My friend Charlie Pierce calls Manchin “the Prime Minister of America.” I wish I’d thought of that. As the Senate renewed its increasingly urgent business, Manchin wasted no time before reminding us that he’s the roadblock to the Democrats’ entire agenda–-and he’s loving every minute of it.
Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman “scooped” us all by transcribing something Manchin told a gaggle of reporters yesterday. It’s incoherent, but you get his drift.
The quote goes: “I’m really not going to talk about Build Back Better anymore because I think I‘ve been clear about all of that. There [are] no negotiations going on at this time. OK? There’s an awful lot of things that were very, I think, well intended. And there was a lot of things that was pretty far reach on some things. And in the most delicate times that we have right now. And our country is divided. And I don’t intend to do anything that divides our country anymore. So whatever I can do, to unite and bring people together. And that means you have to work harder as you work across the aisle to bring people together.”
I cannot find audio or video of what Sherman transcribed, so I have to leave it at that. “Delicate times?” Lots of partial sentences? Manchin might have been returning from his final New Year’s Eve party when he said that. I don’t know. Some things he said are transparently not true. There are definitely negotiations going on. Lots of Democrats in Congress are trying to figure out what might get Manchin’s vote—and what would also keep progressives on board. (Remember: We also have some votes.) It’s ridiculous arrogance to say “no negotiations” are going on “at this time.” But that’s our Joe.
Then he went around and talked about Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer’s plan to bring up Manchin’s own voting rights legislation. That’s right: Manchin didn’t like the two bills Democrats passed out of the House, so he cobbled together a compromise (with other Democrats, to be fair). He acted like his compromise could get 10 GOP votes; it got one, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s. So, to make it law, Democrats will have to do something to get around the filibuster that requires it to get 60 votes. It’s worth noting that we never say “do away with the filibuster” anymore. We just talk about various carve-outs for various issues—in this case, voting rights. We progressives are pragmatic and desperate people.
Manchin is neither pragmatic nor progressive nor desperate. Schumer is trying to figure out a way to pass Manchin’s own bill, but Manchin doesn’t seem to care. He talked himself blue in the face about the trouble with carve-outs; this was his best line: “Anytime there’s a carve-out, you eat the whole turkey.” Still, he left a few doors open for a filibuster compromise. Stay tuned.
And that’s what he wants us to do: Stay tuned to The Joe Manchin Show.
The truth is, we have no choice right now. He, and/or Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, can pass or block the Democrats’ agenda in the Senate. That’s why reporters trail him everywhere, even as he insists he won’t talk about the thing he will immediately talk about.
New year, same problem. It already feels like Groundhog Day.