Joe Manchin: The Power He Wields in the Senate

TL;DR (4-minute read)

  • Joe Manchin is a Democratic Senator from West Virginia who prioritizes bipartisanship.
  • Manchin’s bipartisanism is exemplified through the Democrat’s new voting rights bill: he is the only Democrat to not sign the bill, and he chooses to do so because the Act lacks support from Republicans. 
  • Given that there are 50 Democratic and 50 Republican Senators, Manchin’s efforts to promote bipartisanship give him a significant amount of power in the Senate, as he acts as a negotiator between the two parties to ensure everyone’s voice is being represented. 

Born and raised in West Virginia, Joe Manchin now represents his home state in the United States Senate. He was sworn into the Senate in 2010, filling a vacant seat left by the late Senator Robert C. Byrd. Manchin believes that “government should act as a partner, not an adversary,” and he supports policies that allow Americans to better themselves without heavily relying on the government. Despite being one of the fifty Democrats in the Senate, Manchin is a firm believer of bipartisanship. Manchin’s urge to usher cooperation between Democrats and Republicans is one of his defining political strategies and one that has recently been a source of conflict in the Senate.

What should you take away from this: 

  1. Examples of Joe Manchin’s bipartisan spirit 
  2. What effect Manchin’s unwillingness to be partisan has on his power in the Senate. 
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is surrounded by reporters as senators rush to the chamber to vote. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

1: What are some examples of Joe Manchin’s attempts to promote bipartisanship in the Senate?

Recently, the voting rights bill, which has been titled the For the People Act, has been of utmost discussion in the Senate. Forty-nine of the fifty Senate Democrats were in agreement as to what the bill should be, but alas, that is not a majority. Joe Manchin is the sole Senate Democrat to oppose the bill, mainly because of his fear of partisanship. Manchin says, “Voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen,” and that enacting the law would “risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.” All Senate Republicans are against the bill, and without Manchin’s support, the bill will not pass. 

In his bipartisan spirit, however, Manchin proposed his own version of the voting rights bill with a few modifications in hopes to appease Republicans. Manchin’s edits would entail: a national voter ID requirement where voters could show a utility bill or a different identifying document to vote, the utilization of computer models to prevent partisan gerrymandering, eliminate the creation of a public financing system for congressional campaigns, and still allow restrictions on mail-in votes. However, his list would also leave significant portions intact, like automatic voter registration, making Election Day a holiday, and mandating 15 days of early voting. Although Democrats were willing to work with the adjustments, Manchin’s reformed version of the voting rights bill was rejected by the GOP. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said that Manchin’s version was “equally unacceptable.” As a result, the showdown over voting rights persists.

Manchin has made it abundantly clear that he is in no rush to help the Democrats pass their agenda while they grasp onto the thin majority. In addition to voting against the For the People Act,  Manchin has also promised to preserve the Filibuster, which is something many Democrats would like to eliminate to promote their agenda. In other policy areas, such as dealing with China, infrastructure enhancement, and police reform, Manchin has continued to hold out as a spokesperson of bipartisanship. President Biden’s infrastructure bill could be passed with only Democratic votes through the budgetary reconciliation process, but Senator Manchin refuses to bypass the Republican votes. A police reform bill, called the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, was passed in the House and needs to be voted on by the Senate also has yet to receive Manchin’s support.  

Senator Joe Manchin talks to staff after working at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 16, 2021 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

2: What effects does this bipartisanship have in the Senate? 

Joe Manchin’s insistence on bipartisanship has created an obstacle for Democrats to pass their desired legislation. With the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, in a case of a tie, the Vice President, Kamala Harris (D), offers the tie-breaking vote; thus, Democrats have the majority in the Senate. However, all fifty Democrats need to be on the same page for the positive effects of holding the majority to shine. If Manchin is apprehensive to side with his respective party on a piece of legislation, then the Democrats will be unable to get enough votes to pass the measure, like the Voting Rights Bill for example.

 Even President Joe Biden has publicly called out Manchin for his overbearing support for bipartisanship. When a reporter asked Biden why the voting rights bill, known as the For the People Act, has not passed yet, Biden said, “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate — with two members of the Senate who voted more with my Republican friends.” 

Manchin’s unwavering support for bipartisanism gives him an unproportionate amount of power in the Senate. Whether or not certain pieces of Democratic legislation pass sometimes solely depends on Manchin’s vote. For example, take the For the People Act: Manchin’s opinion has been called “the magic 50th vote” by The New York Times and other news organizations. Manchin is holding the keys for the Democrats’ door to reform movements, but he is refusing to unlock it without some support from the right. Joe Manchin truly does wield great power in the Senate because of his extreme moderation and his desire to make both sides of the aisle happy.

Senator Joe Manchin speaks to reporters about his alternate ideas for reform movements (The New York Times/Stefani Reynolds).


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