The scene begins among the trees. He appears holding a gun, loaded with the bullet out of the pocket of his olive jacket. He says he will protect the US Constitution’s right to guns, and pulls out the sheet of paper representing the clean energy law proposed by then President Barack Obama.
Shot in 2010, the video could have been taken from the campaign of a future ally of Donald Trump, but its protagonist is actually Joe Manchin, who at the time was a candidate for the Senate for the Democratic Party. Elected and re-elected by West Virginia, a predominantly white state with strong Republican leanings, the most conservative Democrat on Capitol Hill is now one of the White House’s main concerns, with positions capable of restraining or stopping boost Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. .
At 73, Manchin has softened his image and calibrated public postures since he targeted – literally – the Obama administration’s bill, but he still champions pro-gun, anti-abortion, and anti-flag ideas. of the progressive wing of his party in a nod to the majority of the population of the state that elected him.
With Biden in the presidency, Manchin shared with Arizona moderate Kyrsten Sinema the Democratic pivotal seat in a shattered Senate – 50 votes for Democrats and 50 for Republicans, with a tiebreaker by Vice President Kamala Harris.
Recently, however, the senator’s two positions have isolated him as a key government figure: electoral reform, which Biden referred to as one of his administration’s priorities, and the debate over ending the filibustering in the Senate, which involves in the vote the most ambitious projects that the president wishes to approve in the years to come.
Manchin is the only Democrat to have refused to support his party’s Law for the People, with the backing of Biden and Kamala, to carry out sweeping electoral reform in the country. If approved, the law would revoke a series of voting restrictions approved in Republican states that primarily affect blacks and the poor.
The senator’s argument is that no election law should be a partisan measure, but a construct between the two sides of American politics, to protect, not “divide or destroy” the United States.
Manchin also opposes an end to “filibuster” – a mechanism that allows the minority to obstruct Senate votes indefinitely. Part of the Democrats want to end the reign and, thus, approve the projects by a simple majority, because many measures – including electoral reform – require the vote of at least 60 of the 100 senators to be approved.
Two weeks ago, Manchin rocked his colleagues by publicly crystallizing that he would not sign the bill, but on Wednesday he circulated a three-page memo with his alternative bill to the bill, which has applauded the Democrats.
Biden’s party knows that electoral reform has no chance of succeeding as long as the Senate filibuster exists, but they saw Manchin’s move as an opportunity to reshape the pressure on the senator.
Now they want to show that even the entire party rallying to the most moderate suggestion will not be enough to win support from Republicans and that Manchin needs to change his mind about the filibuster if he is to get the bill passed. -same – and everyone. require a qualified majority, ie those which do not involve a budget.
The senator, who has planned in his first year in office a meeting with his 99 colleagues in the Senate to “get to know them better”, insists that there is room for dialogue with the opposition, despite signs to the contrary.
This isn’t the first time Manchin has given Democrats a headache. A graduate in business administration from the University of West Virginia, he entered politics at the age of 35 and came to Washington after passing through the House, Senate and state government.
In 2010, he was sworn in as a senator by Biden, then Obama’s vice-president, and four years later, in an interview with the New York Times, he said his relationship with the first black president of the States- United was “virtually non-existent”.
Rooted in the discourse of bipartisanship, he sided with the Republicans on several agendas and initially adopted a very friendly attitude towards Trump when he arrived at the White House. Despite his immigrant grandparents, he backed anti-immigration proposals and was the only Democrat to approve the Republican’s appointment of Tory Justice Brett Kavanaugh – accused of sexual assault – to the Supreme Court.
According to the FiveThirtyEight site, Manchin voted in favor of Trump’s measures 50.4% of the time. But at crucial times for Democrats, such as in the Republican’s two impeachment processes, he followed his party.
The Election Law was Manchin’s first public dissent this year, but it has become a high-profile debate for the Biden government.
In the note with his version of the rules, the senator proposes to turn election day into a public holiday – which Republicans oppose – and to require the identification of voters at the time of the vote – a measure that Democrats did not want to implement.
Despite the differences, progressives embraced Manchin’s middle ground early in the morning, including Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is due to run for Georgia in 2022 and is a leading advocate for better access to the vote. . In an interview with CNN, she praised the Manchin project and said she would “absolutely” support him.
As most skeptics expected, however, the move failed to convince Republicans that it is possible to work on a more moderate Democratic proposal. On the contrary. This gave them ammunition to tie the new project to what they call left-wing radicalism, arguing that the more progressive wing of the party, of which Abrams is a member, has appropriated the ideas.
Roy Blunt, a Republican senator from Missouri and one of the main opponents of the Democratic bill, summed up the strategy: “I think when Stacey Abrams immediately backs Manchin’s proposal, she becomes Abrams’ replacement, not the one. by Manchin. “
Faced with the reality that no conversation with 99 colleagues is going to get Republicans to support an access-to-vote proposal – which they want to restrict, not expand – Manchin will have to decide on his new target. The senator must choose whether he maintains dissent in the name of an unlikely two-party system or whether, as in other historical bifurcations, he definitely aligns himself with the party to which he is affiliated.