When Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) stepped to the Senate podium and began his assault on American voting rights, he didn’t just send a message to Black voters, he echoed an earlier message directed at the president from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema: We’re not scared of you.
They aren’t afraid of his ability to use his bully pulpit, his ability to put his years spent in the Senate to good use, or even of the repercussions for crossing the leader of the free world.
And if we’re honest, why should they be? Nothing in President Biden’s time spent in the Senate or as vice president indicates that he has the temperament to instill fear. He’s “Uncle Joe,” “a nice guy,” the guy you’d want to have a beer with. Let me be clear: That’s okay. He’s from a different generation, one where he can drink scotch with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after Republicans defunded another program aimed at helping Black people, and laugh about how bad the Washington Football team played.
The problem is that we’re not in that generation anymore. Customs have been trampled on, norms have been shattered and coups have been attempted. These are trying times and this country’s tolerance for polite society and kumbaya moral victories is over.
Whether we’re talking about Democrats or Republicans, Americans want someone to fight for them. To stand up for them.
Now one year into his administration, President Biden has been unable to pass a new voting rights bill, which would increase the availability of mail-in voting, strengthen the Justice Department’s ability to ensure that people of color are not denied their right to vote and increase access to the ballot by making Election Day a national holiday. Instead, he has allowed Sens. Sinema and Manchin to hijack the agenda and threaten to destroy his presidency.
In the wake of the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, a day that should remind every American just how fragile our Democracy is, Sinema approached a microphone in the Senate chamber and proceeded to do more damage to our democracy than any rioter did during that horrific insurrection. Sinema made clear that while she “supports” both voting rights bills, she believes passing them would be too “divisive.”
This is the same Sinema who once campaigned on using the reconciliation process to bypass the filibuster. The same Sinema who called John Lewis, the man the bill was named after, her hero and promised to protect his legacy.
So when Sinema talks about how passing legislation that makes sure my grandmother can still vote is too divisive, or when Manchin says Senate tradition is more important than making sure the children of Dr. Martin Luther King can still vote (after carving out an exception for the filibuster less than one month ago), it’s clear that not only are they the wrong people to have any type of political power, but it also shows that they fear no consequence from the president.
Manchin has so little respect for Biden that he planned his speech to announce he wouldn’t support a new voting rights bill right in the middle of Biden’s nationwide address noting his one-year anniversary.
Why should they fear any repercussions from the president? In a city of leaks, we haven’t heard any reports of Biden promising to support a primary challenger for Sinema or barnstorming West Virginia. He gave a nice speech in Atlanta, but where is the fight and conviction that we need from our president?
President Biden has triumphed through multiple personal tragedies and always managed to come back stronger. A candidate whose campaign was declared dead now sits in the Oval Office commanding the most powerful nation in the history of the world. It’s time that he acts like it. It’s time that he fights like it. Black people built this country and gave birth to a presidency that seems to forget that Black voters were the defense against Trump’s second term.
The Democratic Senatorial Committee should cut off all funds to Sinema and Manchin. The Democratic National Committee should begin running ads that directly speak to the damage that Sinema and Manchin’s vote will cause in 2022 and 2024. The president should announce his support for Rep. Ruben Gallego’s (D-Ariz.) primary challenge of Sinema and do everything he can to make sure his first fundraising numbers cause Sinema to curtsey all the way to K. St.
Primarying Manchin in West Virginia is a fool’s errand that wouldn’t solve anything. But spending the rest of his term constantly reminding his constituents how often he chose lobbyists over cheaper drugs, special interest over tax credits, and himself over everything and everyone sends a message to the entire caucus. Maybe he switches parties, maybe he doesn’t, but he cannot be allowed to hijack the party and expect no pushback.
We should shame them and expose them and do so in a way that says to every American that Democrats are here to make your lives — not the lives of our members — better. We should make a political example of them.
Protecting our elections is the keystone in preserving our democracy. President Trump said last week “Sometimes the vote-counter is more important than the candidate.” We know the insidious nature of the threat. The time for bipartisanship purely for the mirage of bipartisanship is over.
Either you’re on the right side of history or you’re on the wrong side. Most things aren’t black and white, but this time it is. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have chosen the lucrative side of history over their oath, their constituents and American families all over the country. Those actions can’t be ignored.
Republicans are watching, Democrats are voting, and Black voters who continuously feel taken advantage of and forgotten after Election Day are waiting. How Joe Biden decides to react to the damage done by Sens. Sinema and Manchin will tell us everything we’ll ever need to know about who and what he values.
Sinema and Manchin may believe that posing in pictures with Black heroes somehow inoculates them for their deeds. Only Biden can remind them that no bad deed should go unpunished.
Michael Starr Hopkins is a founding partner at Northern Starr Strategies.