Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin

Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin
© Greg Nash

Arguably, one of the most powerful men in Washington is Democratic Senator Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE of West Virginia. He is the moderate, centrist swing-decision-maker in the Senate, where President BidenJoe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE’s legislative agenda is contingent upon his vote. 

Democrats received a big win in March with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passage. They know Biden is trying to move a progressive agenda through his nominees, executive orders and policy decisions, but they still need Congress to pass significant legislation. And that’s not happening, thanks in part to Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor CBC honors Black women advocates amid voting rights battle GOP blocks infrastructure debate as negotiators near deal MORE (D-Ariz.) and other moderates in the Senate.

Such major legislative agenda championed by the Democrats include: D.C. statehood, which is not faring well; immigration reform is nowhere; the bipartisan Jan. 6 commission bill was filibustered; gun control is stalled. The American Families Plan has big problems. The American Jobs Plan may not fare as badly, but it won’t survive intact. You can probably forget about a significant rewrite of the tax code, although the White House and Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenOn The Money: Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' | Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' Africa doesn't deserve last place in the vaccine race MORE are pushing hard on a “global minimum tax.” And most recently, progressives grew more furious about Manchin’s op-ed decision not to support the Democrats’ election reform bill known as the “For the People Act.”

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The attacks from liberals have been swift and breviloquent on Twitter and news channels. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) suggested that the Senator’s op-ed should have been entitled, “Why I’ll vote to preserve Jim Crow.” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) labeled Manchin as the “new Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines Has Trump beaten the system? MORE.” Additionally, Rev. William Barber, a religious progressive and leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, is organizing a “Moral March on Manchin” in West Virginia. 

While some of the attacks of Manchin are extreme in rhetoric, they are also justified. After all, Manchin has boxed himself in by saying too bluntly what he will and won’t do; thus, giving his leverage away, not preserving it. He’s in a position where he’s on the hook too, and soon, will possibly need Biden to somehow get him off of it. Unless, of course, he makes himself open to switching parties — which after all this and all these years, I seriously doubt he’d ever considered. 

But while the attacks are more ideological than political, especially for the more progressive wing of the Democrats, such bombast speaks to the need for moderation within both parties but most especially the Democrats. The attacks will not harm Manchin, given his status in West Virginia, where Trump carried the state by nearly forty percent. Democrats, however, don’t seem to understand the reward: a centrist, independent, can translate into a win, which sometimes means flouting the party over a controversial piece of legislation. Nor are they trying to work with Manchin, and this will be their problem. Furthermore, Manchin has voted with his party nearly eighty percent of the time, dating back to the 112th Congress, and according to ProPolitica, he’s voted for all of Biden’s nominees. Frankly, Manchin doesn’t need his party. The party needs him. 

There was a record voter turnout among the Democratic base this last election that ensured a Biden/Harris win and a slight congressional Democratic majority. And as the research illustrates, when Democrats are in control, African Americans, the poor and other communities of color legislatively tend to do well. Consequently, the Democrats need moderate voices — conservative Democrats, including Manchin. Democrats should be concerned about the increasing appeal of conservatism to minority voters, especially Latinos. 

This week, Republicans have won two Texas mayoral races, where eighty-five percent of the population is Hispanic. While Republicans may never win over eleven percent of Black voters, we can’t ignore conservatism's strong-hold and outreach among certain racial groups, including Asian and Latino Americans. Thus, as some Latinos and Asians flock to the GOP, that increasingly leaves the Democratic party’s base minority-majority Black, with urban and liberal progressives. Biden also needs Manchin. Manchin and his party can’t be opposed to meaningful legislation without concretely contributing to what is required for a compromise. Even Manchin's predecessor, the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), understood the idea of getting something of value done.

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This sentiment is echoed by Sen. Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockObamaCare 2.0 is a big funding deal Kaseya ransomware attack highlights cyber vulnerabilities of small businesses Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection MORE (D-Ga.), one of two Georgia Democrats that handed his party the majority with surprising wins in January. According to Politico, Warnock spoke to Manchin and said he was “hopeful” to win over the moderate Democrat. “Joe Manchin understands that this is a defining moment in American history.”

Democrats need to focus on winning in 2022 and 2023. The berating of Manchin will not help, but working with him seems like a winning strategy. Democrats are paying the price now for not investing more seriously in helping Mike Espy’s Senate run in Mississippi or developing a better strategy — specific to the local Maine sensibilities — for knocking off Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTransit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - Infrastructure vote fails; partisan feud erupts over Jan. 6 panel Senate falling behind on infrastructure MORE. Or for not hewing to former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean’s dictum that the Dems need to have a 50-state strategy. 

Ultimately, we need both parties devoid of extremes. While there are some sensible Republicans like former GOP Chairman Michael Steele and Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerKey Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements MORE (R-Ill.) attempting to save the Grand Old Party, in my view, the Republican Party is too far gone. Perhaps a third party is what American politics truly needs. However, in the meantime, the Democrats need to figure out a better way to work with the senior Senator from West Virginia, or we continue to lose as a country. 

Quardricos Bernard Driskell is a federal lobbyist, an adjunct professor of legislative politics at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Follow him on Twitter :@q_driskell4